Proposal would again look at tolls on I-73

  • Thursday, April 3, 2014

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) — It appears the state Transportation Commission will again study whether to use tolls to pay for building Interstate 73 through northeastern South Carolina.

Transportation Commissioner Mike Wooten represents the state’s 7th Congressional District where the interstate is planned and says he will ask for a study next month.

The Department of Transportation staff is preparing a request for proposals for the study expected to cost as much as $200,000.

Wooten said tolls would probably be combined with other funding to pay for the road.

“Tolling is not going to be enough to pay for it,” he said.

A smaller, less extensive study of using tolls was done in the last decade.

Brad Dean of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says the interstate would help the tourism industry and says all sources of funding should be examined.

The interstate would connect the Grand Strand with Michigan. The South Carolina portion is expected to cost almost $2.5 billion.

There currently is no funding source for the highway.

Local officials are asking federal lawmakers to include the project in this year’s Highway Reauthorization Bill, which provides money for large projects.

South Carolina already has set aside about $53 million to purchase land and conduct feasibility studies.

I-73 opponents

Environmentalists have opposed I-73, saying existing roads can be upgraded for less money and with fewer impacts to the environment.

Nancy Cave, executive director of the Georgetown branch of the Coastal Conservation League, said Monday that this road is not needed.

“Why even spend any money on a road that we do not need?” Cave said.

“If the road is ever built, it will impact more than 300 acres of wetlands. From an environmental standpoint it would have one of the largest environmental impacts of the last 20 years.”

She said upgrading Highway 38 and SC 501, which are the current main routes into and out of the Myrtle Beach area, would be far less expensive and little to no environmental impact.

“If they felt so strongly about having an effective road to and from the Myrtle Beach area, they would make the necessary changes to make traffic between Conway and Myrtle Beach better. That is where the real slow down takes place on that route. That would be about a tenth of the cost of building a new interstate.”

She added that I-73 would not save anybody significant amounts of time.

I’d remind people that there are no permits yet to build I-73,” Cave said. “We have to wait until agencies make a decision to permit it or permit it with conditions.”

Times reporter Clayton Stairs contributed to this report.

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