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Group Suggests Tolls to Pay for I-73 in SC’s Grand Strand

Fri January 16, 2004 - Southeast Edition
CEG



MYRTLE BEACH, SC (AP) A group that promotes development in the Grand Strand suggests making Interstate 73 a toll road to speed construction of the 80-mi. (128.7 km) highway through Pee Dee.

If drivers pick up at least part of the up to $2-billion tab for the new road, it would ensure the state can pay its share for the highway and possibly speed federal funding, supporters say.

Even if the federal government paid for 80 percent of I-73, the state would still have to come up with approximately $400 million.

For decades, Myrtle Beach leaders have said the lack of an interstate link to South Carolina’s northern beaches have kept tourism from reaching its full potential.

Officials say I-73 would run from Detroit to the Grand Strand.

The toll road idea was approved by the North Eastern Strategic Alliance, which promotes development in a 10-county region around Myrtle Beach. Where to put the toll booths and how much to collect was not discussed.

“We have to look at this thing to make it happen,” said the alliance’s vice chairman, state Rep. Tom Keegan, R-Surfside Beach. “If the thing that can make it happen is a toll road, I’d be for it.”

South Carolina Department of Transportation officials said they will consider the tolls.

“As you can imagine, the 80-mile project carries a very large price tag,” said John Walsh, the agency’s I-73 project director. “We are looking at all innovative financial options available to us. We aren’t ruling in or out any options.”

South Carolina has two toll roads –– one in Greenville County and one on Hilton Head Island.

The president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce said charging tolls on I-73 makes sense if it isn’t too expensive and is collected for a limited time to pay for the road.

More than 90 percent of the Grand Strand’s nearly 14 million annual visitors come by vehicle.