HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Local leaders behind the Interstate 73 project said the road is closer than it's ever been to seeing construction begin.
On Friday, officials with the South Carolina Department of Transportation submitted the final permit application for approval for the potential project to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Just days after submitting the application, the leaders behind the current project are confident it will move forward.
"This is a huge step forward for I-73, but it is important because it is a pathway to progress for the Grand Strand and Pee Dee," said Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean.
Included in the final permitting application was SCDOT's long-awaited wildlife mitigation plan for the project. Chairman Mike Wooten said the department weighed two different options and decided purchasing land would be the best way to go.
Wooten explained that if the Army Corps of Engineers gives the project the go-ahead, SCDOT would purchase about 90 percent of Gunter's Island.
The land would then be turned over to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who would be responsible for preserving it.
Wooten said the land to be purchased totals nearly 6,000 acres. If I-73 construction were to move forward, about 250 acres of wetlands would be destroyed.
"We're very concerned about the environmental impact," explained Nancy Cave with the Coastal Conservation League. "It's going to have an enormous effect on the wetlands and divide the ecosystem."
Cave and the Coastal Conservation League are steadfast in their opposition of the I-73 Project. She said they've recommended SCDOT instead improve U.S. 501 and Highway 38.
"This interstate is not really needed," Cave said. "There are alternatives that meet the purpose."
When asked about the Coastal Conservation League's concerns, Wooten, who has spent 27 years on the I-73 Project, was quick to respond.
"We will prevail and we will build the road," he said.
Wooten, along with the rest of the local leaders working to get the project going, see the benefit in potential industry.
U.S. Congressman Tom Rice showcased the results of a recent economic study, suggesting the construction of the interstate could result in 22,000 jobs
"I think it's critical that we invest in infrastructure in our district, for tourism, for the coastal counties, for industrial diversification for all the counties," Rice said over the phone.
This project is still far from finished. At this point it still needs approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. After that, the project will need state certification.
From there, the project will go out for public notice. Wooten said he is expecting opposition.