By Paul Gable
Governor Henry McMaster revealed what a pseudo-conservative he really is by including funding for the proposed Interstate 73 project in his State of the State agenda.
In his speech, McMaster said, “Our booming economy and rapid population growth have outpaced the state’s ability to keep up with improvements to our transportation infrastructure.”
Anyone driving on South Carolina roads would agree.
McMaster went on to say that he was asking the General Assembly to appropriate $660 million from the state’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $600 million from the state’s excess revenue to the SC Department of Transportation.
McMaster said this one-time injection of $1.26 billion into the DOT budget would allow accelerate work on “some of the state’s highest priority projects.” Among those “highest priority projects” named was “the long-awaited start of construction on Interstate 73 from the Pee Dee to the Grand Strand.”
I’m sure McMasters’ words warmed the cockles of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Karen Riordan’s heart and those of the special interests gathered around the Chamber supporting I-73.
Can we conclude payback to those interests for the many campaign contributions made to McMaster’s war chest?
When McMaster attended a Chamber press conference on I-73 last fall, he announced he would ask the General Assembly for $300 million from ARPA funds to construct six miles of the road in Dillon County. Fifty million dollars per mile, even for this boondoggle, seems a bit rich, but those are McMaster’s words.
McMaster’s projected budget to complete the entire 66 miles from I-95 to the end of SC 22 was $1.6 billion. The final 22 miles of that project (it is currently called SC 22) has already been built from local tax dollars.
Of the $1.6 billion amount, the state was supposed to provide half, the federal government $450 million and the local governments of Horry County $350 million, according to the McMaster budget.
Even if the General Assembly approves McMaster’s request for a $300 million appropriation for I-73, there is no idea where the remaining $1.3 billion will come from.
That $300 million represents 24% of the total $1.26 billion one-time revenue McMaster asked to be included in the DOT budget for “highest priority projects.” Interstate 73 is only a high priority project for those few special interests who expect to gain financially from its construction.
The citizens of the Grand Strand don’t want I-73. They want the roads already built to be repaired, maintained and widened where necessary because of recent new home construction.
No one who is an actual fiscal conservative would support spending $300 million to build six miles of highway with no idea where funding will come from to complete it.
The I-73 the Chamber and the governor are talking about is not really an interstate highway. It is nothing more than a 66-mile spur from I-95 to US 17 in Briarcliffe.
Recently the South Carolina Taxpayers Association began running ads on Facebook calling this project what it really is – “Special interests want state funds to build new interstates like I-73 to Myrtle Beach, when we can’t even maintain or make needed upgrades to our current roads.”
The ads encourage taxpayers to contact state legislators calling on them to help ALL of South Carolina.
Hopefully, the General Assembly members will get the message.