LaHood: I-73 a 'perfect match' for federal bill

SOUTH CAROLINA (WMBF) - U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is calling Interstate 73 a 'perfect match' for a new federal transportation bill that will provide crucial funding for the major infrastructure project.

The encouraging comments were relayed by LaHood during a surprise visit to the Pee Dee early Friday morning. Several state and local lawmakers flocked to Florence-Darlington Technical College to curb a growing curiosity on federal intentions to support the $2.2 billion project.

"It seems in a very quick time frame, we're seeing dividends being paid in terms of attention to I-73 by those in control," South Carolina Rep. Alan Clemmons said.

Those dividends came quicker than many expected, as LaHood announced the Interstate 73 project would be included in an upcoming federal transportation bill. LaHood said Congress will begin writing the $500 billion Highway Reauthorization Bill in 2011.

"If this is South Carolina's priority [and] if this is the region's priority, I have no doubt that it will be part of the six-year plan," LaHood explained. "[That] means you jumpstarted your opportunity to start funding it."

LaHood said Friday's major victory for the Interstate 73 project comes on the heels of persistent action and heavy-hitting priorities displayed by the National I-73/74/75 Corridor Association.

A two-day Fall Road Rally sent members of the organization, alongside local and state leaders, to Washington, D.C., to muster federal support for the interstate. Several strategically-planned meetings allowed federal legislators to learn about the project and its economic importance in South Carolina.

"The studies prove that with every billion dollars spent in investment, 30,000 jobs are created," Clemmons said.

An Interstate 73 Economic Impact Study prepared by economists at Coastal Carolina University revealed not only will the proposed interstate yield a significant economic impact, but also create and support jobs throughout the construction sector.

"The actual construction of I-73 will certainly provide a much needed boost to the regional and state economies," the impact study stated. "Specifically, I-73 construction will generate a substantial number of jobs at a time when the region and [South Carolina] are experiencing sharp job losses and rapidly rising unemployment."

Early estimates suggest 4,680 new jobs will be created in South Carolina during the construction of the interstate, in addition to 3,040 jobs generated throughout the regional economy.

LaHood said Friday if local and state delegations want to bring this type of positive economical impact to the state, they must stay focused on the creation of adding yet another state-of-the-art roadway to America's intricate interstate system.

"My suggestion to these folks is to stay together, work hard and continue to make I-73 and I-74 a priority," LaHood advised.

Project developers said Interstate 73 will eventually connect Michigan to South Carolina, giving drivers a new travel opportunity to the east Coast.

The project would be the first interstate link to Myrtle Beach, running 90 miles through four South Carolina counties.

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