SC Gov. Signs I-73 Toll Legislation

Wed February 15, 2006 - Southeast Edition

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (AP) Less than a month after the measure was introduced in the General Assembly, Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill Feb. 6 authorizing tolls to be used to build Interstate 73 across the northeastern corner of South Carolina.

It would be the third toll road in the state and officials say using tolls means the 90-mi. stretch of interstate could be finished in as little as eight years.

The road would provide the first interstate access to the Grand Strand, which attracts approximately 14 million visitors a year and is the heart of the state’s tourism industry.

“Given the fact that four out of five people coming to the Grand Strand are coming by road, putting I-73 in place as quickly as possible would pay enormous dividends for not only this region but for our state as a whole,” Sanford said during a signing ceremony at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The signing of this bill is a huge victory for the residents of South Carolina, for millions of future visitors, and for our state’s number one industry,” added Brad Dean, the president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

Fifteen Pee Dee area lawmakers introduced the toll bill Jan. 12 and it moved quickly through the Legislature. Lawmakers said there was little federal money for the road and without tolls it would not be built.

The interstate, which would cost $2 billion to build in South Carolina, is the top priority of the state Transportation Department, Elizabeth Mabry, the department’s executive director, has said.

Other tolls in the state are on the Southern Connector — Interstate 185 — in Greenville County and the Cross Island Parkway on Hilton Head Island.

The transportation department hopes to announce a preferred route for the southern section of I-73 from the Conway Bypass to Interstate 95 in May. Permits for that section are expected early next year.

Permits for the northern section — from Interstate 95 to the North Carolina state line near Rockingham, NC — are expected about a year later.

The legislation calls for the tolls to be removed once the highway is paid for. Bonds will finance construction and could take 20 to 30 years to pay off, lawmakers have said.

The amount of the toll and the number of toll booths will be determined by the department.

Lawmakers have suggested some system where South Carolina residents get a rebate on the tolls, but that issue was not addressed in the measure passed by the General Assembly.