Shell Game Continues for I-73 Funding

By Paul Gable

The Horry County Administration Committee will vote today on a resolution dedicating a portion of annual hospitality fee collections to funding Interstate 73 construction within Horry County.

The effort to commit county dollars to Interstate 73 is being heavily pushed by county council member Dennis DiSabato.

A member of the Infrastructure and Regulation Committee, DiSabato failed to get the resolution on last month’s I&R Committee agenda. DiSabato received a much more sympathetic result from Admin Committee chairman Johnny Vaught after approaching Vaught on including the resolution on the Admin Committee agenda.

Regardless of the vote from the Admin Committee, a positive vote is expected, the resolution will go forward to full council for consideration next week. This is the latest ploy in attempting to commit county funding to the Interstate 73 project before any other government entity at the local, state or federal level commits to providing funding for I-73.

The story being spread to other council members is the resolution, if passed, does not commit the county to anything because it’s only a resolution stating the will of the current council to fund the road project.

That is not entirely true. If the resolution is approved by full council, it would be a direction to county staff to include dedication of $4.2 million of hospitality fee revenues to I-73 in next year’s county budget. Once such a dedication is included in the budget, it will be much more difficult to remove that line item during budget discussions and would serve as the impetus to approve a similar appropriation in succeeding budgets especially considering the pressure the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its cronies continue to bring to local councils to fund I-73.

Last month the Chamber promoted the idea of having local governments in Horry County commit to providing a total of $250 million in funding for I-73. The idea was promoted that such a commitment from governments in Horry County could then be taken to the state government with a request for an additional $500 million in state funding for the project. The combined $750 million in commitments would then be taken to the federal government to request funding to complete the project.

Current estimates to complete construction of I-73 from its connection with SC-22 to connection with I-95 in Dillon run in the $1.5-2 billion range.

State and federal funding for the project remain highly questionable. The state government recently committed hundreds of millions of dollars received from the federal government in Covid relief funds to expanding Interstate 26 to six lanes between Charleston and Columbia. To date, not one dime of that money has been committed to construction of I-73.

County council Chairman Johnny Gardner has been firm in his stance to funding I-73. Gardner has consistently said first significant federal and state funding should be appropriated for the project. Then and only then should the county consider appropriating local government revenues to completion of I-73.

By reversing that formula, the Chamber and its cronies are playing the only card they seem to have and any county council members who vote to approve the proposed resolution are doing the Chamber’s bidding not what is good for the local taxpayers they nominally represent.

There is nothing in the resolution before the county, as currently written, that requires appropriations from any other government entity at any level to provide funding for I-73 before the county does.

If the county and the cities dedicate money to I-73 in the next month as is the Chamber’s plan, I submit the S.C. Department of Transportation will move quickly to formalize those commitments with a new contract similar to the one former Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus convinced council to commit to by resolution three years ago. It took council one year to withdraw from that contract. Such are the dangers of these resolutions which are promoted as ‘meaning nothing.’

There is one other consideration. Some of the people who are described as ‘local and business leaders’ who continue to promote county funding of I-73 may be looking no further than their own wallets.

The first proposed spending of county money by SCDOT three years ago was to purchase rights of way in Horry County and issue engineering contracts for the project. Should this be the case again, and there is no reason to expect otherwise, what I’ve seen described as a ‘potential financial bonanza’ from the sale of land and issuance of contracts for certain individuals and businesses could be realized without one inch of dirt ever being moved for the road.

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