‘I have not lost hope’: Sen. Graham discusses I-73 during North Myrtle Beach visit

With an ongoing battle between Horry County and Myrtle Beach creating controversy over the fate of the long-coveted Interstate 73, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said he hopes to partner with a local representative to ensure the roadway is built.

Citing U.S. Congressional Rep. Tom Rice, R-7, as an advocate for the construction of I-73, Graham said during a campaign stop in North Myrtle Beach on Friday night he wants to work with him to see roads and bridges across the state are modernized.

“Of all the people I’ve met in politics, Tom Rice is the most determined to get this done, and I want to be his partner,” Graham said. “This is a tourist destination and I am determined to have better roads and bridges to make it safer and easier to get in and out.”

He said the creation of a national infrastructure project would provide the necessary funding for I-73 along with a “network of roads that need to hook up to I-95.” Graham explained the proposal would benefit the Grand Strand, calling the area a cash cow that generates the most sales tax in South Carolina.

“Everybody’s got roads and bridges that need to modernize,” Graham said. “I have not lost hope that President [Donald] Trump can work with Congress to have a national infrastructure project, which would help this part of South Carolina the most.”

The fate of I-73 has been a point of contention with Horry County and local municipalities after months of fighting over the control of a local hospitality tax, a 1.5 percent portion of the fee that would provide major funding for the county to build its portion of I-73.

With the county agreeing to spend more than $20 million a year on road construction through the hospitality revenue, the money to fund the project was called into question after Myrtle Beach sued Horry County over the collection of the hospitality tax inside municipal borders.

While a judge granted all municipalities within Horry County the right to collect the tax in escrow until the lawsuit is concluded, county officials have maintained that without the hospitality funds to support its contract with S.C. Department of Transportation, any plans to build the interstate are dead.

County officials voted last month to postpone their decision to end a contract with SCDOT to begin designing and building the county’s portion of the interstate. If Myrtle Beach and area municipalities don’t contribute their portion of funding for the project within the next 90 days, council said it would terminate the contract.

“Tom Rice is smart as hell. He works hard,” Graham said. “He’s going to build I-73 by himself if nobody else will.”

Before roughly 300 supporters, with many sporting “Make America Great Again” hats, at Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse in North Myrtle Beach, Graham also pledged to support Trump as both big-name Republicans fight for re-election in 2020.

Graham, who was first elected in 2002 and chairs the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, is seeking a fourth term.

With Trump in command, Graham said the country would continue to see a booming economy, the Second Amendment upheld, more judges added to the Supreme Court, tougher immigration laws and a resilient military.

“Here’s why we’re going to win: Trump has been a damn good president,” Graham said. “This is the strongest economy I’ve seen in my lifetime. Can you imagine what it would look like with four more years?”

Graham also took aim at the current slate of Democrats fighting for the presidential nomination, calling them “crazy” and asserting his confidence in Trump prevailing in 2020.

“If we lose to these crazy people, we will have changed this country forever,” Graham said. “I cannot stress how important it is for all of us to turn out and keep this train rolling because if you do care about your healthcare, you’re going to lose it if they win.”

The crowded field of Democrats grappling for the presidential nomination includes former Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. Senators Kamala Harris, of California, Cory Booker, of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders,of Vermont, and others.

Graham was also confident in his ability to beat his Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. Harrison, the former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman, has criticized Graham, claiming he’s neglected his constituents during his three terms.

But Graham said he’s been an “effective senator” and will be a “ferocious campaigner.”

“This is a big election,” Graham said. “But here’s why I know it’ll turn out well for me: To get to me, they have to get through you.”

Related stories from Myrtle Beach Sun News

Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.