Chamber-sponsored video calls environmental group’s alternative to I-73 ‘laughable’

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Interstate 73 saga continues, with the latest attempt to stop construction of the highway involving the Coastal Conservation League, which wants to widen U.S. 501 instead.

Now, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has taken to social media to address the league's proposed alternate route.

A video posted to the chamber's Facebook page calls the proposed route – The Grand Strand Expressway – "laughable."

Erin Pate, with the CCL, said she is disappointed that leaders in Myrtle Beach are blaming the league for I-73 not moving forward.

"Why would we want to spend billions of dollars building a new interstate to Myrtle Beach when we can upgrade 38 and 501 to a superstreet design with limited access, U-turns that is easy to do and a lot less expensive?" Pate said. "It achieves many of the things the Myrtle Beach Chamber wants."

The CCL is proposing an upgraded S.C. 38 and U.S. 501 route from North Carolina connecting to Interstate 95 and to S.C. 22.

"This road runs parallel to the proposed route for I-73 just five miles apart," Pate said. "It is an existing four-lane road with large medians and large shoulders."

Pate added that I-73, from S.C. 22 to I-95, is projected to cost $2.5 billion, with the price increasing every year.

"The Grand Strand Expressway would cost about one tenth of that and would save the environment in terms of not having to build a brand new roadway," she said. "With a superstreet design, there would be less need to go into right-of-ways for all of the housing along 38 and 501. There would instead be controlled access U-turns on the street to provide limited access for the folks that live along that route."

The CCL has questioned I-73 for decades. The most recent lawsuit was filed in December 2017, but this time the concern is not over environmental protection, but the proposal to build the Grand Strand Expressway through the Pee Dee region.

"I think the CCL is acting on their own behalf, for their own greed and own power base," Mike Wooten, and ambassador with Economic Development, stated in the Facebook video. "The Coastal Conservation League said they would not oppose I-73 so long as I-73 was north of Conway and connected its route to Myrtle Beach with Veterans Highway. There's actually a memo to that effect signed by Nancy Cave that I have a copy of, so they can't say they didn't make that promise, because they wrote a memo to all their attributors saying why they made that promise."

"The Myrtle Beach Chamber says there is a memo from 2004 they are holding up and pointing to. Well, that was almost 15 years ago," Pate said in response. "In the last 15 years, there have been a tremendous amount of routing changes, decisions that change the way proposed I-73 would go. That was then, this is now."

Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said he was in Washington on Monday when President Donald Trump's $20 billion transformative infrastructure proposal announcement was made.

Dean said Trump is in full support of I-73. He added the big changes he sees are a change in funding. The president is willing to pay 20 or 30 percent of a project. He also wants to streamline the permitting process to take less than two years for approval by appointing one lead agency, and he wants to prioritize infrastructure projects if it's one that will help transform a particular region.

Dead said he thinks I-73 is a poster child for the administration's plan.

"I think our congressman will look at all transportation and infrastructure and flooding needs throughout the state, and make smart decisions where federal dollars need to be used," Pate said.

The MBACC released a new online petition that is specifically about the league's proposed alternate route. Click here for more.

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