Chamber of Commerce seeks funding for Interstate 73

COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, Coastal Carolina University and Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS® hosted the 2013 Grand Strand Legislative Reception for S.C. General Assembly members Wednesday night in Columbia.

The event was aimed to increase awareness and understanding of the greater Myrtle Beach area's numerous contributions to the state and its economy. The hot topic of the night was Interstate 73. The MBACC is pushing to secure funding to build the interstate.

"There's so many new faces here in the General Assembly," MBACC President Brad Dean said. "They face a very tough task." Dean said Wednesday's reception likely had the biggest turnout to date, and he hopes the legislators understand the importance of building a major interstate in the Grand Strand.

"We want them to be reminded that I-73 means jobs, growing tourism, and it could save lives in the event of a hurricane," Dean said.

Senator Greg Hembree (R) was recently elected to his first term in November 2012. Hembree said the problem with I-73 is finding available funding.

"The funding issues that the state faces are difficult," Sen. Hembree said. "Certainly we want to see some funding come to I-73. but there are infrastructure needs all over the state, so we're gonna have to, as a body, figure out how to balance. "You know, that's always the challenge, balancing those needs with what's available."

Newly-appointed Commissioner of the Highway Commission, Mike Wooten, said he understands a need for I-73, but the project needs to begin with educating the community on how and where the funds are allocated.

"I think the first job is to educate people on how DOT is funded and how they fund the projects," Wooten said. "So many people think that the federal funds go for building stuff and the state funds go for maintenance, and that's just not true."

Senator Ray Cleary(R) said he has an idea that could possibly help increase SCDOT's funds.

"If there's extra money in the budget like there was last year, we capture that extra money and we make sure that 10 or 20 percent goes to DOT," Senator Cleary said.

As the push for the interstate continues, Wooten said even if the permits and funding come together, it would likely take 10 years before the interstate was built and functioning.

"It is a long and arduous process. My goal is to drive on I-73 before I retire," Wooten said.

Among a list of priorities the Chamber has asked the legislators to focus on, it is asking them to focus on eliminating South Carolina Corporate Income Tax and for allowing non-profit organizations to offer competitive health care benefits.