Alan Clemmons | The time is right for I-73

According to Richmond, Va.-based Chmura Economics and Analytics, Interstate 73 would bring a total of 29,000 jobs to the Grand Strand and Pee Dee regions. The group’s study also suggests the project would bring around 1 million additional tourists to the area per year and would expedite the diversification of our economy by luring new industries to the area. Finally, completion of the interstate would provide the Grand Strand’s 336,000 residents and nearly 15 million tourists with a superior evacuation route, one that is more safe and efficient and desperately needed.

It would be a gross dereliction of our civic duty to turn our backs on the community by abandoning this critical project. With millions of dollars already spent and countless hours of hard work committed to the project’s completion, it is fiscally unacceptable not to see the full construction of the interstate finalized. The Charleston based Coastal Conservation League’s Grand Strand Expressway alternative is a poor surrogate for interstate access to our area. The Grand Strand is among the country’s top 10 tourist destinations, and yet it is the only one without interstate access, placing our community at a competitive disadvantage while stifling the potential for long-term economic growth.

The League’s assessment demonstrates their increased removal from the needs of the Grand Strand area and its people. It’s time concrete facts on I-73 are given – free of distortion from meddlesome outside groups attempting to control the flow of commerce in our area. Here are the real facts on Interstate 73 in South Carolina:

The permit application has been submitted for the entire project (North and South).

85 mile portion in SC:Eastern section (Southern Corridor) from S.C. 22 to I-95 extends 40 miles.

Western section (Northern Corridor) from I-95 to N.C. border extends 45 miles.

Southern Corridor

• Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) signed on Nov. 29, 2007.

• Record of Decision (ROD) signed February 2008.

• Right-of-Way acquisition began 2009.

Northern Corridor

• The Draft Environmental Impact Statement signed on July 19, 2007.

• Final Environmental Impact Statement signed August 2008.

• Right of Decision (ROD) signed October 2008.

Funding Currently Programmed/Invested:

• $86 million in Federal Highway Reauthorization

• $10 million in TIGER Grant

• $19 million in state matching funds

• $300-plus million in local-option sales tax (RIDE I Program paid for S.C. 22, S.C. 31)

Ninety-six percent of the large-scale projects bringing new and much-needed jobs to South Carolina are locating within 20 miles of an interstate. At 80 miles away from the nearest interstate, the Grand Strand area is missing out on huge opportunities.

In today’s economy, every viable opportunity to create new jobs must be dutifully pursued. With potentially 29,000 new jobs, increased tourism, economic diversification and human safety on the line, we have to doubt both the merits and rationale the Coastal Conservation League’s ill-formed proclamations. We will continue to challenge outside special interest groups like the League and will not give up the fight for the real progress this area and our state need and deserve through the completion of Interstate 73.

Clemmons is state representative for Myrtle Beach and chairman of the National I-73/I-74/I-75 Corridor Association.