SCDOT may commission study to make I-73 a toll road

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - On Thursday, the SCDOT Commission discussed paying for a study that will look into making I-73 more of a possibility as a toll road. SCDOT Commissioner Mike Wooten says this is part of the process of looking at all the possible funding sources to make the interstate happen.

He also says the request would give the toll idea a second chance, since this study was first done eight years ago. Things have changed since then: now the Grand Strand has 16 million visitors every year, and traffic patterns have changed, so it could be time to give the funding source another look.

Those in our area who support the project are trying to come up with more than a billion dollars to make the interstate connect from the beach through North Carolina, and then eventually up through Michigan. Most drivers seemed to overwhelmingly support the idea of paying more to make it happen.

"If it got you to I-95 quicker, yeah. I don't think that the idea of a toll road is a bad idea at all," said Bill Ford.

"I definitely think it's worth it," said Sidney Spainhouse. "People, they always complain about traffic."

"We're from New York so we're used to paying for everything," said John Andrews. "So it depends on how much of a tax it was."

It's too early to know how much the toll would cost as the price will be discussed if and when the study is finished.

The focus isn't just on getting the money for the interstate, but also the changes to other area roads needed to make the interstate a reality. The I-73 plan is to take the 24-mile-long Highway 22, and turn it into an interstate to make way for I-73. But the problem is, there isn't enough room here next to the highway.

A road has to pass certain standards before the Federal Highway Administrator can designate it as an interstate. Wooten tells WMBF News the only standard stopping Highway 22 from being considered an interstate now are the side shoulders next to the road. The shoulder has to be wide enough to account for emergency vehicles. If this was done when 22 was first built, it would have cost $11 million. To go back now and do the work will cost $30 million. The issue was having the money to do it back then, and it still is the issue now.

Thursday, SCDOT discussed applying for a TIGER grant, which is a tough federal transportation grant to grab. Last year Horry County applied, and didn't make it past the first round. But now SCDOT wants to take a swing at it this year, and the goal is to send a stronger message from all those who support this project. The deadline to apply for the grant is at the end of this month.

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