Legal challenge to I-73 urges hard look at cost-saving alternatives

A better road solution is available but Horry County interests won't consider it

CHARLESTON, SC — The South Carolina Coastal Conservation League today filed a lawsuit that seeks to require federal agencies to examine a more fiscally responsible alternative to the proposed Interstate 73.

The Grand Strand Expressway – an option to connect Myrtle Beach to I-95 with upgrades to the 38 and 501 corridor – would save $2 billion compared to the I-73 boondoggle pushed by Horry County officials and special interests.

The I-73 project would lead to higher taxes and tolls and siphon scarce federal money from South Carolina priority road projects. In contrast, the Grand Strand Expressway, or GSX, could be built for a tenth of the cost, would provide almost all of the same benefits of an interstate, and would protect existing local businesses in the Pee Dee region.

“An interstate that bypasses the region would be devastating to this business and dozens of others,” said Alex Small, manager of Sparky’s, a fireworks store and iconic tourist attraction on U.S. 501. “Our livelihood and the paychecks of the local workers we hire depend on attracting travelers passing through. Losing that steady stream of visitors would be a significant setback.”

The lawsuit challenging federal agencies’ decisions to approve the I-73 project was filed in Charleston’s federal court and seeks full consideration of the GSX alternative.

“For too many years, Myrtle Beach special interests have been pushing a multi-billion dollar new interstate that will serve only one part of the state,” said Erin Pate of the Coastal Conservation League. “This would hijack federal money from more urgent needs throughout South Carolina.”

According to a transportation expert’s report, the GSX would be “a well-connected multi-lane highway network,” while I-73 would only add “redundant capacity” at an “exorbitant” cost.

As proposed, I-73 would run parallel to the Grand Strand Expressway and just a few miles away, showing just how unnecessary the interstate would be.

“This is about giving all of the people of South Carolina a voice and a choice,” Pate said. “We support the Myrtle Beach tourism economy. The GSX would get tourists to Myrtle Beach faster and cheaper than I-73, which will take at least a decade to build.” 

The GSX would also save hundreds of acres of valuable South Carolina wetlands, streams, and family farms.

The lawsuit points out that federal officials merely dusted off old studies in approving the permits, rather than taking a fresh and thorough look at whether an interstate is needed, prudent or affordable.

The overall I-73 concept was envisioned decades ago as an interstate from Michigan to Myrtle Beach. But only one percent of a national I-73 has been built as other states abandoned the effort as too expensive while modern travel technology has diminished the need for new interstates.

The high cost, the redundancy, and the threat to Pee Dee economies have caused leaders and businesses in the region to oppose the interstate project.

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