Could I-73 come to fruition as South Carolina toll road?

| 12/6/2010

A long-sought project that would ease travel from the South Carolina coast to the state’s northern border could get a shot in the arm at the statehouse.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, has prefiled a bill for consideration during the upcoming session. It would allow the South Carolina Department of Transportation to pursue partnerships with private groups to get road work done. The bill specifically authorizes the state to seek partners to complete the proposed Interstate 73 project.

Officials in the state have been talking about the project for nearly 20 years, but funding has eluded the state. To help get the project started, the U.S. Department of Transportation is sending the state $10 million. The money will be used to accommodate an interchange with Interstate 95.

Supporters say the federal money is a crucial step in getting more money to build the road, which would stretch from Myrtle Beach to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Grooms’ bill would also authorize tolling authority for new projects and added lanes on existing roadways. However, the state would be prohibited from leasing roads that were funded by a local option sales and use tax.

Another option, which would help keep the I-73 project in state control, is a long-term transportation authorization bill. But officials point out that South Carolina and the rest of the country are forced to wait until Congress can work out the bill’s details.

Mike Joyce, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said there is concern everywhere about the outlook for getting transportation projects completed.

“There’s a lot of frustration about the lack of a long-term authorization bill. States don’t have a clear path forward,” Joyce said. “As a result, South Carolina and others are forced to look under the seat cushions to find the money to pay for projects. And the funding methods pursued may be detrimental and very expensive to highway users.”

Joyce said he believes efforts like this could become commonplace.

Once the regular state legislative session begins Jan. 11, 2011, the bill – S103 – can be considered in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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