‘A drop in the bucket’: Little funding for Myrtle Beach from new SC gas tax increase

State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall says Horry County’s share of the gas tax will total about $250 million over 10 years.
State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall says Horry County’s share of the gas tax will total about $250 million over 10 years. AP

The Myrtle Beach area will only get a small percentage of the new state gas tax increase, state officials say.

The state estimates the tax will raise $4.4 billion over the next decade for road improvements, while Horry County’s total share will be about six percent.

State Transportation Secretary Christy Hall says Horry County’s portion -- $250 million over 10 years -- will mostly pay for state road improvements.

That total includes $150 million for state road resurfacing work, $13 million to replace state bridges, and $70 million for the county transportation committee program, where state dollars also are allowed to be spent on local roads.

Some local officials were surprised at the expected allotment since Myrtle Beach is a major economic driver for the state.

“That’s a drop in the bucket for us,” said Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught.

“Our RIDE III funding is bigger than that,” Vaught said, referring to the county’s voter-approved sales tax to pay for road projects.

Horry County residents have carried the burden of building and maintaining roads through the Ride Improvement and Development Effort since the mid 1990s, through which more than $2 billion has been raised in sales taxes to build major highways like S.C. 22.

The most recent project, RIDE III, was overwhelming approved by voters in November and is expected to raise $592 million in eight years for county road projects through the 1-percent tax on retail sales, accommodations and prepared foods and drinks.

“I’d love to see us getting more money back, obviously,” Vaught said. “But I don’t think there’s any choice but for us to take care of our own business.”

The first gas tax raise went into effect last month by two cents, bringing the total state tax to 18.75 cents. The tax will continue to increase by another 10 cents over the next several years.

Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus also was surprised at the amount of Horry County’s share, but said that gas tax funds spread across state roads would still largely benefit Grand Strand tourism.

“I just rode on (Interstate 95), for example coming back from Hilton Head, and that’s a gateway for us, too,” Lazarus said.

“Just to say that Horry County’s not getting the dollars is not actually correct, because we’ve got people coming from the northeast, mainly, that are going to have to travel these roads to get to us,” Lazarus said. “My hope would be those roads (leading) to us are going to be paved, so it’s a better ride and better experience getting here.”

Lazarus is not convinced the 10-year estimate of dispersal to the county is set in stone, noting that the state legislature will also have a say in how tax dollars are spent.

“That was the first stab at it. We’ve got a long ways to go and I think the formulas will change over time as necessities change,” Lazarus said.

The state’s congressional delegation is lobbying for a federal infrastructure bill that would include funding for construction of Interstate 73 to Myrtle Beach.

Lazarus said when that road project moves forward, he would hope to see the state support that construction with the gas tax money.

Looking at the bigger picture, Lazarus says numerous state roads are in poor condition with crumbling bridges that are in desperate need of attention. And those roads can eventually lead to Myrtle Beach.

This story was updated to reflect that Horry County’s portion will be a quarter-billion dollars.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson