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S. Carolina DOT to Streamline Environmental Impact Process

Wed January 18, 2006 - Southeast Edition
Bruce Smith - ASSOCIATED PRESS



CHARLESTON, SC (AP) The state Transportation Department is using a new, streamlined approach to study Interstate 73, the expressway through South Carolina that will one day connect the Grand Strand with Michigan.

In compiling an environmental impact statement on the $2 billion project, researchers are working with government agencies who will issue the permits, said Mitchell Metts, the department’s program manager for the project.

It’s the first time the department has used such an approach, he said.

Usually, the impact statement, or EIS for short, is compiled first, then reviewed by the permitting agencies who may have other concerns that may need more study, slowing the process.

“We don’t want to do an EIS and go back and they will ask what happens with this alternative and this issue,” Metts said. “It’s a new process for everybody.”

It’s expected to take only four years to finish the studies and get permits for the 90-mi. (145 km) project. Normally, it would take between seven and 10 years.

The project is being studied in two parts — the southern section between the Myrtle Beach area and Interstate 95 and then a northern section from I-95 northwest to the North Carolina state line near Rockingham, NC.

The impact statement for the southern section should be complete by year’s end and permits expected about a year from now, Metts said. The permits for the northern section are expected about a year later.

That section includes studies for about 5 mi. (8 km) of expressway north of the state line, requiring working with North Carolina agencies, Metts said. Although South Carolina is paying for that section of the study, North Carolina will pay for all construction on its side of the line.

A preferred alternative for a route from the Grand Strand to I-95 is expected to be announced shortly.

Transportation officials will meet with lawmakers and government leaders from the North Eastern Strategic Alliance next week in Columbia to discuss progress on the project.

The alliance, based in Florence, works to foster development in 10 counties in the northeastern corner of the state.

Although the studies are continuing, building I-73 still depends on getting construction money.

“We have said all along if we have all the money and money were no problem, to get through the environmental process and permits and build it would be 10 years,” Metts said. “We’re not going to get a $1 to $2 billion at one fell swoop. But by getting the permits for the whole route, we can come in and build any section as funding would allow.”

For more information, visit www.i73insc.com or the North Eastern Strategic Alliance at www.nesasc.com.