Fighting Unnecessary Interstate 73

Photo © SELC/Mike Mather

Myrtle Beach special interests are pushing for construction of a $2 billion interstate that would not only divert tourists away from the Pee Dee region and straight to the resort area, but also spend tax money needed elsewhere in South Carolina to fix the state’s decaying roads.

Interstate 73 was proposed decades ago to run from Michigan to South Carolina. However, many states along the route abandoned the plan as too expensive and with too few benefits.

Myrtle Beach special interests, led by Congressman Tom Rice and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, are championing an effort to corral the lion’s share of federal, state and even toll money to push this unnecessary road project through.  But they’re running into stiff opposition from municipal and business interests in the Pee Dee region.

Dillon Mayor Todd Davis, writing as a guest columnist in the Florence Morning News, said, “There is no purpose for this interstate other than to funnel travelers and their wallets directly to Myrtle Beach and bypass so many of the local communities – Dillon, Latta, Sellers – that rely on visitors’ dollars to meet our budgets.”

Several other Pee Dee governments and business associations have also voiced opposition to the interstate plan. In addition to the loss of business revenue, many are worried the interstate would be paid for with tax money needed elsewhere in the state to repair and upgrade South Carolina’s priority transportation projects.

Those counties and government leaders favor upgrading and expanding existing roads, like SC 38 and US 501, to accomplish the same goal as the interstate at far less cost.

Interstate backers have not come up with a funding plan. Taxes and tax increases won’t cover the cost, and a bill to place new tolls on existing roads to help fund the interstate died in the 2018 South Carolina legislature.

But even though the project is unfunded, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted wetland fill permits needed to begin construction. The Coastal Conservation League, represented by SELC, is challenging those permits in court.

The lawsuit says the Corps did not adequately consider alternatives, including the upgrades and enhancements to the existing corridor favored by several Pee Dee leaders, when considering the permits.

In fact, I-73 would run parallel to local roads, and would do little to quicken the trip to the coast for out-of-towners. A report examining the interstate plan found it would only add “redundant capacity” at an “exorbitant cost.” It would also cut through protected public lands and unnecessarily damage or destroy many wetlands and streams, critically important in South Carolina’s coastal plain for storing floodwater in light of the more powerful storms that will result from climate change. Our region is already seeing storms that drop more rain and linger longer, causing deluges on our communities and landscapes that wetlands help absorb.

“This lawsuit is really about forcing federal regulators to take an honest and thorough look at alternatives,” said Catherine Wannamaker of SELC. “When there are options that would save hundreds of acres of wetlands while saving taxpayers money, that is worthy of serious consideration. That hasn’t happened here.”