I-73 Myths and Reality
By Paul Gable
A few days ago we were treated to reports of a new I-73 study by Parsons Brinckerhoff commissioned by the Grand Strand Business Alliance.
Local media reported that the new study found two previous studies commissioned by the Coastal Conservation League, advocating an upgraded expressway link to I-95, not credible. It further reported two previous studies completed by the Northeast Strategic Alliance and Dr. Don Schunk of CCU, advocating for construction of I-73, were credible.
Not really. The Parsons Brinckerhoff study questioned the cost of the CCL study as being too low, said a four-lane upgraded expressway would not be comparable in capacity to a six-lane interstate and performed some literary gymnastics with benefit-cost analyses and economic development benefits for the differing studies.
A major point in the Parsons Brinckerhoff study is the estimated cost of building I-73, $1.3 billion – $1.6 billion, vs. the CCL study cost of $147 million, which Parsons Brinckerhoff raised to $190 – $210 million.
Whether you use the CCL estimate of $147 million to upgrade the SC38/US501 corridor or the Parsons Brinkerhoff estimate of $210 million does not matter. Neither approaches the current estimated cost of $1.4 billion to build I-73 from the I-95 interchange in Dillon to Myrtle Beach.
In a time of attempting to close budget gaps and desires for at least stable taxes and reduced government spending, which alternative makes more sense?
The Parsons Brinckerhoff study assumes the traditional government split of 80/20 federal government to state/local government funding to fund I-73 construction. Does anyone reasonably think an I-73 link from I-95 to Myrtle Beach is going to get over $1.1 billion in funding from the federal government in these economic times?
Would a Republican S.C. Congressional delegation pledged to no tax increase, reduced government spending and balanced budgets even advocate for such funding from the federal government?
The state bond issue, that Horry County’s Danny Isaac tried to put together in his last months as chairman of the SCDOT commission, to fund an I-95/I-73 interchange in Dillon, is now dead. There is no funding in the foreseeable future coming from the state.
It doesn’t matter. The Myrtle Beach Mafia, a group that excels at getting other people to fund their wishes, has a better plan. They want YOU to pay for I-73, just like YOU, who live or buy anything in Myrtle Beach, are paying for their marketing expenses with the Tourism Sales Tax.
The plan is to have Horry County council extend the hospitality tax, after bonds for RIDE I and RIDE II are paid off, to pay for I-73. Isn’t that great? Another project where the county holds the liability and pays it off with taxpayer dollars while the asset goes to the state’s credit.
But that’s hospitality tax, the tourists pay that right? Yes, but so do you every time you buy a drink at a convenience store, eat at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chik-Fil-A, and the like, go the movies or buy something from the deli in your local food store among other activities.
At least as much, and probably more, hospitality tax is paid by locals as tourists and we pay it 365 days a year.
Even if I-73 would bring more tourists to the Grand Strand, creating jobs and improving business income, a very doubtful proposition, what would be done with increased traffic once it gets east of the Intracoastal Waterway? Traffic jams going north and south are already a normal part of the summer. It would only get worse.
If you want I-73, be willing to pay for it with tax dollars for 20 years at least. If not, raise your voice and tell the Myrtle Beach Mafia, Chamber members and all the other intertwined groups who claim to need I-73 so much to spend some of their own money for a change and pay for it themselves.
Read the latest study and check out some of the other propaganda at the I-73 website: http://www.i73.com/docs/ParsonsBrinckerhoffFINAL.pdf
Even if this project should find some magic funding fairy, who is going to come up with the four million dollars a year for maintaining it? Maybe supporters of this project should consider taking the money spent on tv and radio spots selling this fantasy for that. Ripping us off (OH YEAH, IT’S WORKING!!!)
Here is what Parsons Brinckerhoff actually says about the NESA study, which has been the basis for all those claims from MBACC about the huge increase in tourism and all the billions of dollars that I-73 would bring to Myrtle Beach:
“The NESA study asserts substantial benefits from increased tourism in Myrtle Beach and from service business formations around I‐73 interchanges. The methodologies used by Chmura to make these planning estimates are interesting and backed by some good information such as surveys of Myrtle Beach visitors. However, while these impacts may occur over time, they would be subject to many other factors not considered, and should be regarded as having a very wide margin of error and be viewed as illustrative rather than definitive.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff say that only the construction employment estimates of NESA and Schunk “are within a credible range.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff state at the beginning of their study, “The Report, information contained herein, and any statements contained within the Report are based upon information provided to Parsons Brinckerhoff by and obtained from publicly available information or sources, or information provided to PB in the course of investigations and evaluations of the economic studies included. Conclusions are based on that information and the best professional judgment of Parsons Brinckerhoff.”
There is no indication in their report that they checked the arithmetic or assumptions used in the NESA (Chmura) study that led to the vast overestimation of travel time saved by I-73, which led to the vast overestimation that this would result in increased tourist volume, which was then applied to the total annual tourist volume, whether they would come via I-73 or not. These errors make the claims of local i-73 boosters totally non-credible.