By Paul Gable
Interstate 73 was not among the list of TIGER grant recipients announced late last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The S.C. Department of Transportation had requested $30 million to widen the shoulders on S.C. 22 to bring the road up to interstate standards so it could be redesignated I-73.
The USDOT didn’t think the project worthy of funding. Except for a few members of the local legislative delegation and a few tourism leaders, neither does anyone else.
Nearly a year ago, Gov. Nikki Haley, speaking to the Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors, said someone else would have to pay for I-73 because the state couldn’t afford it. She said it was a federal responsibility.
The feds obviously don’t think so as they wouldn’t even cough up a “mere” $30 million TIGER grant.
Since the mid-1990’s, local politicians and business leaders have been saying the Grand Strand needs an interstate highway connection in order to sustain and build tourism. It must be so because we keep seeing the ads on television.
However, the economic benefits of I-73 appear to be considerably overstated in a study done for the Northeast Strategic Alliance approximately two years ago. For example, the study predicts over 18,000 tourism related jobs would be produced just from the time saved by visitors using I-73.
When you consider other studies estimate the time saved could be approximately 20 minutes, that estimate doesn’t appear credible.
The real answer here is to upgrade the U.S. 501/S.C. 38 corridor to the beach for about one-tenth the cost of building I-73, especially when you consider the lack of money available for road projects both at the state and federal levels.
What we must be especially careful of in Horry County is that funds for I-73 are not included in the recently started RIDE III project considerations.
There are more than enough local road projects needed from that money if a referendum is ultimately passed by the voters in 2016.
We don’t need to fund an interstate road project whose benefits are questionable at best and whose use by locals, those funding the project through increased sales tax, would be limited.