MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham says the next 18 months is a critical time period for Interstate 73.
Graham visited the Grand Strand Friday morning to meet with members of the I-73 Committee and to push for money for the project.
"The holdup is getting the funding, getting the federal government to buy into the idea of building this interstate," Graham explained.
He says a big part of that funding could come with the Highway Reauthorization Bill that comes up next year, where Congress will set priorities as to what infrastructure projects will be funded. Graham says that starting the interchange project at Interstate 95 and Highway 501 in Dillon County will show the nation that South Carolina is serious about this project.
"Anything we can do this year, in terms of infrastructure development in South Carolina ,allows me to make the case to the federal government, that you should build this road because the states are already helping in terms of the infrastructure," said Graham.
I-73 is a $2 billion project that local leaders have been working on for years, but Representative Douglas Jennings, who is the Chairman of the I-73 Committee, says with a project this big, it just takes time.
"This is South Carolina's number one infrastructure project," said Jennings.
Already, there's been $83 million of federal money and $75 million of state money set aside for the project. However, Jennings says they're closer than ever before to breaking ground.
"I would say that certainly within two to three years you could see dirt moving and you could see actual construction going on. I would also remind you that SC-22 is already in place and is an important part of this project," he said.
Jennings says I-73 is more than just a road, it would help the state as an economic lifeline to Dillon, Marion, and Marlboro counties by bringing in thousands of jobs. He says the interstate would also serve as an evacuation route during hurricanes and as a way of bringing more tourists to the Grand Strand.
"Myrtle Beach is the largest tourism destination in the country that is not served by an interstate," Jennings added.
Graham adds that since 15 percent of state sales tax dollars comes from the Myrtle Beach area, building the road would help everyone.
"If you built this interstate, you could double the amount of tourism, which would benefit the state as a whole," Graham said.
He also says lawmakers are planning a road rally in Washington D.C. on Sept.30 to push to make this project happen.