MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The South Carolina Department of Transportation is 3 percent closer to beginning construction on the state's long-awaited Interstate 73 project.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday morning it was awarding the state $10 million of the requested $300 million from Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants. The grant includes optional innovative financing enhancements to support a direct loan for up to one-third of the project costs.
South Carolina asked to use $300 million in federal grant money to build an interchange in Dillon County at I-95. It's a move they say would help put many people back to work in the Pee Dee and get the ball rolling for progress to connect Myrtle Beach to an interstate highway.
"Myrtle Beach is currently the busiest resort destination in the nation without an interstate connection, leaving [the area] with a competitive disadvantage against other destinations," said Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC). "Not only will this grant help alleviate the disadvantage, but it will create jobs during a time when South Carolinians are really struggling to find work."
The highway would run from the coast to the North Carolina border through Marlboro, Dillon, Marion and Horry counties. The TIGER project is an 11-mile segment located in Dillon County where the new highway intersects with I-95, the major north-south East Coast interstate.
State leaders say the project will significantly improve safety by segregating interstate traffic, including motorists traveling from I-95 to Myrtle Beach, from the local traffic, which is significantly slower, as well as improve economic competitiveness of the Myrtle Beach region and South Carolina by substantially improving interstate access for a major city that is currently not connected to the Interstate system. The proposal stated the improvements would mean travelers from I-95 to Myrtle Beach would save as much as 25 minutes on the 65-mile trip.
"The TIGER Grant would be the catalyst that would allow us to [use] the existing moneys that we have compiled together. We'd probably get the interchange at I-95 built and bring it on down to Latta," said SCDOT Commissioner Danny Issac, prior to the USDOT's announcement. "In the interim, we've been purchasing up right of way as hard and fast as we could, so right now it's all about funding."
Issac said the $300 million would not nearly pay to build the entire road from I-95 into Horry County and connect it with SC-22, but that it would show that progress is being made and hopefully more funding for I-73 in the future.
According to Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Nancy Gray, the grant application was submitted by SCDOT with support from the North Eastern Strategic Alliance (NESA), Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and the National I-73/74 Corridor Association.
Of the more than 1,400 grant applications, 51 were approved for funding.
"This is great news for South Carolina as we're now $10 million closer to completing Interstate 73," said Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach), chairman of the National I-73/74 Corridor Association.
Rep. Tracy Edge (R-North Myrtle Beach), co-chairman of the association, added, "This commitment by the DOT reaffirms the importance of I-73 and provides a sound investment in a very important project. If we are able to pull together funds from other accounts or revenue sources, this could also help us leverage a much greater amount."
South Carolina was one of four states to get two projects approved. The US-17 Septima Clark Parkway in Charleston received $10 million of the city's requested $146 million. The project would redesign and reconstruct the Septima Clark Parkway to include a storm water runoff system that would shunt water into the nearby river. The roadway would be redesigned to improve highway accessibility, traffic efficiency and safety for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The project also includes the introduction of intelligent transportation systems for more efficient traffic flow.
President Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act a year ago to the day in hopes of preserving and creating jobs and promoting economic recovery, investing in transportation infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits, and assisting those most affected by the economic downturn. The act appropriated $1.5 billion of discretionary grant funds to be awarded by the DOT for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure or grants for TIGER discretionary grants.
The U.S. Department of Transportation required economic justifications for projects more than $100 million and will require all recipients to report on their activities on a routine basis. A complete list of recipients can be viewed HERE.
Many people who live in the area, like Carol Liebowitz, say they're looking forward to having an interstate to travel.
"I just think it would be wonderful because we are in a spot where it is not easy to get to 95," said Liebowitz.
Many others hope the interstate will help to bring more tourists and more businesses to the area.