Rep. Alan Clemmons called for the RIDE III committee — a group tapped to decide which roads will be on a 2016 sales tax referendum — to seriously consider placing the long-planned I-73 project on its road list.
But, Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he doesn’t think voters would approve the project on the list and would rather use the sales tax, if approved by voters, for local inter-connectivity of roads.
The RIDE III committee is charged with identifying road projects throughout Horry County that need to be addressed. Much like the RIDE II program, which helped build the Aynor Overpass, the back gate bridge at S.C. 707 and U.S. 17 Bypass, and many others, RIDE III will have to be approved by voters in 2016 before the county can apply a one-cent sales tax for seven years.
The committee is going through the list of road improvements that didn’t make the top 15 road projects in RIDE II, which Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, thinks is the wrong approach.
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“I’m a little bit concerned with the direction that my friends on the RIDE III committee are headed,” Clemmons said. “The projects that were discarded to build the Aynor Overpass now seem to be taking priority over projects that are going to be significant for economic development and job creation on I-73.”
Clemmons has continued to claim publicly that the construction of I-73 would create 7,000 construction jobs and 22,000 post-construction jobs.
“There certainly are some good projects, such as resolving the traffic impasse that we have at Carolina Forest. I’m sure there are a bunch of dirt roads to be paved,” Clemmons said. “But we shouldn’t be starting with a bunch that were discarded, when we’re talking about taxing our citizens for another seven years. I think that this community needs to be considering, and the RIDE III committee needs to be considering impacts on tourism and the real estate industry and all the other industries that will be impacted by I-73. That means being an important part, I believe, of the I-73 discussion.”
The proposed interstate, which has been discussed for more than a decade, would run from Michigan to Myrtle Beach. Some argue a better option would be to upgrade existing roads.
About $2 billion is needed to build South Carolina’s part of the interstate and is just one of two significant hurdles the highway faces. The other is how the funding would get into the highway transportation bill.
Though Lazarus is not on the RIDE III committee, County Council has the final vote on what projects are on the referendum and how it is presented.
“The reality of it is if I-73 is built, we’ve already started the footprint with [S.C.] 22 out of local funded money,” Lazarus said. “If we get I-73 to come in, which we need desperately, we need to figure out how to fund it.
“I don’t know from local funds we to fund it because once the people get here, how are we going to move them around? Let’s not get the cart before the horse. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to have inter-connectivity in our roads. I have citizens who are screaming they can’t get out of their neighborhoods. That is more important to me today, to take care of the citizens of Horry County.”
Lazarus said even if the council allowed I-73 on the referendum, he didn’t think it would pass.
“I believe if we took it to a referendum, which we will take RIDE III to a referendum, if the only thing that was on it was I-73 it would fail miserably,” Lazarus said. “We’ve got to take care of our home base first.”