MYRTLE BEACH — Newt Gingrich wants infrastructure to be a bigger part of the political dialogue.
That’s the message the former Speaker of the House left with Horry County officials during a discussion on the proposed Interstate 73.
Around 13 area officials met in the Myrtle Beach International Airport’s conference room with Gingrich Thursday morning for a few minutes before his flight.
Gingrich sipped coffee and got a status report on the development of I-73.
“It will be a major transportation artery for the United States,” said Mike Wooten, S.C. Department of Transportation commissioner for the 7th District.
Supporters of the proposed interstate, which would run from Ohio to Myrtle Beach, say it will create over 20,000 jobs.
Locally, proponents feel the road also will provide an economic shot in the arm to Horry County’s tourism industry.
Mark Lazarus, the Horry County Council chairman-elect, told Gingrich the area is the only major tourist destination without interstate access.
“It’s almost quite like you wouldn’t believe it if someone made it up,” Gingrich said in response to Lazarus’ statement.
Wooten told Gingrich I-73 would constitute 32 miles in Horry County running from Myrtle Beach to Interstate 95.
He added $1.2 billion is needed for Horry County’s portion of I-73, and it would take double that to take the highway into North Carolina.
“It’s hard for a local economy to come up with a billion dollars,” said Councilman Gary Loftus, one of three council members who met with Gingrich.
State legislatures are still working to convince those in Columbia and Washington to help fund I-73.
“My goal is to ride on that road sometime in the next decade,” Wooten said.
Gingrich ended the short meeting saying he’d do what he can to be helpful, including developing awareness that Myrtle Beach, along with some of the state’s poorer counties, can really be helped by I-73.
“We’ve got to make infrastructure a bigger part of our political dialogue,” he said.
Gingrich came to Myrtle Beach to speak at a Wednesday forum of oil and gas industry representatives who want Congress to allow development of the state’s offshore resources.
Congressman Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, also spoke at the forum.
His spokeswoman, Caroline Vanvick, said Rice didn’t organize Thursday’s meeting between Gingrich and Horry officials. The discussion, she added, was arranged by former S.C. Congressman John Napier, who served with Gingrich.
A member of Rice’s staff did attend the meeting, Vanvick said.
Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman, said Gingrich’s entire visit along the Grand Strand wasn’t arranged by the county, but that Napier is a county-paid lobbyist who seemed to have a hand in Thursday morning’s meeting.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_bdickerson.