The South Carolina  Story
Interstate 73, a yet to be built limited access highway, is projected to cost over $1.7 billion to complete.  Over the past ten years, this highway has had a colorful history especially since no 'official' ground has been broken.  Signed into law as part of the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA), I-73 has seen many fluctuations on the final destination of this route and in 2006 is still forming a true route.  The project gained considerable momentum in 2005 when in early August 2005 the President signed a bill authorizing $81 million in federal funding towards the completion of I-73 in the state of South Carolina.  The funding from this bill - which would become part of a political football in the Fall of 2005 - along with another $3 million gained later in the year has made Interstate 73 a few steps closer to reality.

History:

The beginnings of what will become I-73 occurred in 1982 when the US Congress passed an appropriation bill that required the study of designating and constructing a new highway connecting I-95 south to US 17 near Myrtle Beach. (1)  This was known as the Florence-to-Myrtle Beach highway.  By 1991, the highway had been incorporated into the 1991 ISTEA legislation assigning a route from Detroit, Michigan to Charleston.  States had the freedom to determine the future locations of the highway.  Seven years later as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), I-73 was shortened from Charleston to Georgetown.

By early 1998, Bobby T. Jones, I-73 Committee Chairman in SC said, "The SCDOT Commission has endorsed a corridor from the state line to near Georgetown, following U.S. 1 to Wallace, S.C. 9 to Bennettsville, S.C. 38 and U.S. 501 near Marion, U.S. 501 to Conway and U.S. 701 to near Georgetown. The northern phase of the project has been identified as a high priority, since it is critical to the economically depressed Pee Dee region of our state. I-73 will provide a lifeline of economic stability to the area." (2) More routing changes would come from within the South Carolina government when in late February 2002, the SC State Legislature approved a resolution to petition "...state and federal highway officials to name Veterans Highway, also known as the Conway Bypass, part of Interstate 73, and the [Carolina Bays] Parkway part of Interstate 74." (3) The formal resolution can be viewed here.  If approved, I-73's proposed alignment would have been changed for a third time.  The legislation remained stalled into August 2004, as a dispute between two members of South Carolina's legislature, Rep. Tracy Edge R-North Myrtle Beach and Sen. Dick Elliott D-North Myrtle Beach, over wording of the resolution halts its passage.  The dispute on the measure, which carries no legal weight, is over the inclusion of sister Interstate 74 in the wording.  Edge points to Elliott's owning of land near the possible path of I-74.  Elliott prefers to wait until North Carolina decides on its eventual routing of I-74 to push for designating SC 31 as I-74. (4)

Even the SC Department of Transportation had different ideas for I-73 than the state legislature.  In 2003, after a series of public meetings, the state came up with five alternatives (5):

  1. New construction running parallel to SC 9.
  2. New construction running parallel to, but north of SC 38 and US 501 to SC 22 (which becomes I-73).
  3. Convert SC 38, US 501, and SC 22 into I-73. The most costly option at $2 billion. The other options are $1.0-1.5B.
  4. New construction running parallel to, but just south of SC 38 and US 501 to SC 22.
  5. New construction heading more southward out of Bennettsville and into Florence county before turning east to SC 22. It appears this option would use SC 327 between I-95 and US 76/301.
Later that year, a recommended route was announced by SC legislators at both the state and national level.  The recommendation resembles option three from the list above.    The interstate corridor would run through the heart of Marion County between Marion and Mullins.  Most of the route through Marion County would consist of upgrading SC 38 and US 501 to Interstate standards. (6)  The legislators were also requesting $4 million a year over the next three years (2004-06) to fund Environmental Impact Statements and Right of Way purchases. (6)  However, more possibilities for I-73 are still being bounced around.  Some state officials would like to see I-73 extended down to Georgetown and then over to I-26 in Berkeley County. (7)  With the first drops of federal money coming into the state to study the various possibilities for I-73, many other proposals and alternatives will be announced and considered.

To show that the state is still deciding on the eventual route of I-73, the DOT removed all Future I-73 signs (example shown at right near Wallace, taken by Carter Buchanan).  The move is not intended to show that the state is not interested in building I-73; rather, the move was done because no specific route has been decided by the state. (8) A study area of 5,600 square miles was later reduced to 2,220 square miles covering four counties: Marlboro, Dillon, Marion and Horry. (9)  The state hopes to have environmental permits granted by 2006 and completion within ten years. (8)

2004 saw more awareness about the route as The I-73 South Carolina Association held two I-73 rallies in the first half of the year.  The first was to Washington, D.C. in February, the second was in Myrtle Beach in May.  Both rallies highlighted the need for the route to boost job growth and tourism but also to bring awareness to the Interstate as a Hurricane Evacuation Route.

In August of 2004, the formal process of conducting the environmental impact studies began when the state filed on Monday the 9th their "notice of intent" with the federal government.  The state filed two notices: One from I-95 north to the North Carolina state line; the second from I-95 south to Myrtle Beach.  The reason for the two studies is South Carolina's concern that North Carolina will not have a committed route for I-73.   Some rumors had circulated that I-73 would follow more of I-74's route in the Tar Heel State.  South Carolina began to conduct separate studies so that the I-95 to Myrtle Beach route can be built if the North Carolina decision on I-73 stalled. (10)  SCDOT began public meetings with three in September 2004.  The meetings were held in Dillon, Mullins, and Conway.  At the Conway meeting two public conservation groups endorsed converting existing highways to Interstate standards (option three above). (11)  However, one future difficulty in this plan will be the small village of Galivants Ferry, where US 501 currently crosses the Pee Dee River.  There would be numerous right-of-way costs to upgrade the existing route or a bypass of the town would need to be built.  During a March 8th meeting, the state unveiled plans consisting of two corridors and seven combinations, all of these routes would have the highway run along US 501 near or through Anyor. (12)

All concerns over North Carolina's plans for I-73 and their effect on the routing of the highway in South Carolina came to a rest early in 2005.  A February summit held in Myrtle Beach between the two states discussed the possible border crossings of Interstates 73, 74, and 20.  The result of the summit was an agreement between the two Carolinas over the border crossings of I-73 and an extension of the Carolina Bays Parkway (possibly I-74).  The agreement states that North Carolina will "...build a 3.7-mile link to the state line from the existing I-74 south of Rockingham." (13)  In turn, South Carolina will build a five mile extension of SC 31 to link up with I-74 in North Carolina.  The new I-73 link would roughly parallel NC/SC 38.  This agreement moves the plan for I-73 further east than the original alignment that roughly followed US 1.  Although the state had already began environmental studies for the route south and east of I-95, the Director of the SC Department of Transportation, Betty Mabry, believes that there will be more than enough money leftover from the $3 million allotment to do environmental studies for the remainder of the route. (13)

The passing of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in August 2005 earmarks $81 million in funding for I-73 within South Carolina.  The money will be spent on environmental studies and right-of-way purchases. (14)  Hailed as a victory for the progress of the route and for the Pee Dee Region, an additional $3 million in funds were granted for the route in November 2005. (15)  However, earlier in that same month both of South Carolina's senators, Lindsay Graham R-Seneca and Jim DeMint R-Greenville, offered to remove the funding for the Interstate in order to fund relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. (16)  The two men who were vital to getting the funding passed appeared to be turning on the project.  However, this proposal was part of a political maneuver in the post-Katrina aftermath.  Both senators did not think the measure would pass.  Said DeMint, "That money is going to come.  Our intent was to just rattle some cages." (16)  Still, the maneuver drew the concern of many residents and numerous editorials were written criticizing the move.

Building a Route in the North:

After the February 2005 agreement between North Carolina and South Carolina on I-73's routing between the two states were settled, SCDOT moved quickly towards organizing public meetings in communities north of I-95.  Meetings were held that September in Bennettsville and later in Hamlet, NC.  At the Bennettsville meeting, over 250 people attended with a vast majority supporting the project.  Before suggested corridors for the route from the North Carolina Line to I-95 were published, a general consensus in support of an alignment being built over top of or near SC Highway 38 was gaining momentum. (17)
 
On September 7, 2006, SCDOT formally introduced three possible corridors for the northern section of I-73.  The unveiling of the corridors came in front of nearly 450 residents at a public meeting in Bennettsville. (18)  All three corridors begin at the Future I-74/US 74 Bypass of Rockingham and Hamlet, NC.  Two corridors begin just east of the NC 177 interchange.  The two western corridors split north of Bennettsvile, with one skirting the city to the west and the other two the east.  The split corridors rejoin just prior to I-95.  Both corridors reach preferred point of intersection with I-95 from the Southern section.  The third corridor begins at the current NC 38 interchange on the bypass and closely parallels North Carolina's planned Interstate 74 (current US 74).  The corridor serves McColl and Clio.  The third corridor split after Clio and reach Interstate 95 at separate points.  If the third corridor is selected, Interstate 73 will have a brief multiplex with Interstate 95.  It appears that Interstate 73 will not be built over top of SC Highway 38 or any other state highway, opposite of what had been thought in the past.  The state projects that a preferred corridor for the northern segment I-73 will be decided upon and announced in the Spring of 2007. (18)  As of this article's most recent update, the final routing still has not been announced.  To see the possible corridors of Interstate 73 from Rockingham to Interstate 95, click on the map at right.  The link will take you to SCDOT's I-73's homepage.

Pressure in the South:

Beginning in the Spring of 2005, a hurdle appeared in the planning of I-73.  Community Leaders from Southern Horry County and concerned residents in Anyor and Cool Springs petitioned the state to include a more southern routing of I-73.  The southern communities see the highway as a chance to connect their beaches to quicker travel for tourism and evacuations.  Anyor and Cool Springs residents were concerned that the highway ran too close to their town.  On April 5, 2005, Horry County Commissioners asked the State to consider a southern routing as part of their plans.  However, there are fears that such a study would add months or years of delays to the completion of the Interstate.  According to Alan Clemmons, a State Representative and president of the South Carolina I-73 Association, the DOT would need to pass a new resolution - for an expanded corridor - and the studies would have to restart from scratch. (19)  In addition, the DOT has voiced probable concerns in regard to a southern route, including environmental impacts to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.  This concern is echoed by the Coastal Conservation League.  The environmental group supports this highway as long as it is not built south of US 501.  (17)

SCDOT would end up denying the request to study a route south of US 501 later that month.  However, state legislator Nelson Hardwick proposed a "bubble route" that would be south of US 501 and more within Marion County.  It would cross the Little Pee Dee River along the former roadbed of US 378 then loop back to SC 22. (20)  That June the State continued to hold fast to the Northern Corridors, but with the help of DOT Director Betty Mabry, the State made minor adjustments in the routing of the potential corridors to appease the concerns of residents of Cool Springs and Anyor.  One corridor was moved further south of Anyor.  Another corridor was adjusted off of SC 319 and to the north of Cool Springs then connecting to SC 22. (21)  Both adjustments were considered major steps in reaching a consensus to the eventual routing of I-73.

In January 2006, the state moved closer to a final route for I-73.  The state narrowed the corridors to two routes, both completely avoiding Cool Springs.  The new proposals consist of two corridors, one following most of US 501 from Marion to SC 22.  The other runs on a new terrain alignment that runs closer to Mullins and joins SC 22 near US 701.  Along the US 501 alignment, the new highway bypasses Galivants Ferry to the north and Anyor to the South.  There is also an option of I-73 leaving US 501 north of Anyor and joining the Mullins to US 701 route.  In February, the town of Anyor agreed to write a letter to the state endorsing the Mullins to US 701 route, or as they called it the "917 Route".  The Mullins route follows and parallels SC Highway 917 south of Mullins.  Anyor Mayor Charles Dawsey felt that this route "..would keep Aynor from having a slice taken out of it by the highway." (22)
 
Finally on May 30, 2006 in Columbia, the state announced the preferred corridor for Interstate 73 from I-95 to the coast.  The corridor begins at Interstate 95 north of SC Highway 38 around I-95's mile marker 183.  The highway runs to the south and west of Latta and will have an interchange with US 501 south of the town.  The next interchange is with SC Highway 41A near Zion.  I-73 will cross and have an interchange with US 76 between Marion and Mullins, this exit will serve both towns.  I-73 will curve around the south end of Mullins where it will be built on top of or parallel SC 917 over the Little Pee Dee River.  The Interstate will then will leave SC 917 near Ketchuptown and head towards SC 22 where it will meet the Conway Bypass between the SC 319 and US 701 interchanges.  Interstate 73 will then follow SC 22 to US 17 in Briarcliffe Acres where the highway will end.  SC 22 will need to be upgraded to Interstate standards.  The planned route would effect 81 homes, seven businesses, 1,700 acres of farmland, and 384 acres of wetland. (23)
 

To see in greater detail the preferred corridor for Interstate 73 south of Interstate 85, just click on the map at right.  The link will take you to SCDOT's I-73's homepage.

The final alternative has not sat well with Dillon County residents and officials.  Residents, who first saw the preferred route in June, are angered and upset over the highway's affect on homes and farmlands.  On the other hand, County Officials are disappointed that the Interstate will not serve the town of Dillon - the county seat - very well at all.  "The county would be better off without I-73 at all, rather than the way they've got it now," Daniel Shine, vice chairman of Dillon County's Development Board, said. (24)  His board approved unanimously to petition the state to change I-73's routing to run closer to Dillon or receive concessions in return. (24)  Many supporters - including Sen. Graham - fear that any change in the preferred alternative would delay the project, and possibly federal funding that would go with it.  (25)  As of this page's last update, a compromise between SCDOT and Dillon County has not been reached.

Bring on the Tolls:

In 2004, The North Eastern Strategic Alliance, made a proposal to toll I-73.  This proposal, made to meet the projected $400 million in funding that would not be covered by Federal dollars, will be looked at by the state. (26)  In December 2005, the tolling of I-73 idea gained more momentum.  Encouraged by a proposal made by a Brunswick County, NC commissioners report and suggestion to toll Interstate 74 to hasten completion, the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce met with SC legislators to look at tolls as a funding possibility. (27)  The concern is, that although $85 million in funding has been allocated for I-73 and with more money to be included from the federal government throughout the decade, the state will still have to fund a good portion of the highway's expected $2 billion cost.  Those promoting the toll legislation see a toll road as quickening the progress of the highway's completion. (27)  In January 2006, State Representative Doug Jennings D-Bennettsville introduced legislation to possibly make I-73 a toll road.

After a brief political battle over adding a toll to I-95 that threatened the bill was resolved, Governor Mark Sanford signed the toll resolution in February.  The bill calls for tolls to be removed once the highway is paid off.  Lawmakers have estimated it would take 20 to 30 years to pay off the bonds. (28)  However, this bill currently does not mean I-73 will be tolled, this allows tolling to be a possible source of funding.  The bill did not determine the amount of any possible toll or a location of any possible toll booths.

New Hurdles:

In the spring of 2006, two bills in the South Carolina Legislature would have the possibility of becoming Interstate 73's next hurdle.  The first bill, an environmental protection bill, covers the state's fragile wetlands.  These wetlands, known as Carolina Bays, are throughout the I-73 corridor.  The original bill which would require no disturbances to these bays was tweaked to allow expedited permitting for I-73 if the route encounters any Carolina Bay.  The DOT would also get on the fast track if it would also have to receive a federal permit for wetland disturbance. (29)

However later in 2006, another environmental issue arose that could stymie progress on Interstate 73.  The preferred routing of the highway meets the Little Pee Dee River where current route SC 917 crosses the river.  This crossing is located within the Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve, an environmental sensitive area that is managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The new highway will impact 27 acres of wetland within the Preserve.  The DNR had preferred that the Interstate be built over SC 9 or US 501. (30)  However, SCDOT's Final Environmental Impact Study implies that the Preserve route impacts the least amount of wetlands than all of the other alternatives. (30)  The DNR agreed with the findings and announced they would sign off on I-73 going through the Preserve once a fair compensation for the wetlands was agreed upon between the DOT and the DNR.

In the first half of 2007, the DNR and DOT were unable to come to an agreement on the wetland compensation.  Legislators had attempted in April 2007 to pass measures that would allow recently acquired wetlands to be used as compensation for the loss at the Little Pee Dee Preserve.  Both attempts failed passage. (31)  The DNR rejected a proposal by the DOT in May 2007.  The rejection of a $450,000 reimbursement from the DOT did not ruin the possibility of an agreement between the two agencies.  In the same meeting, DNR Director, John Frampton, suggested that he would work with newly appointed DOT Director, Buck Limehouse, to negotiate an solution. (32)  Limehouse, who replaced the embattled Betty Mabry as SCDOT Director, has experience and gained goodwill with the DNR, as he worked with them in a wetland mitigation project for the Conway Bypass.



Site Navigation:
  • SC 22 - The Conway Bypass
  • SC 31 - The Carolina Bays Parkway
  • Return To South Carolina Highways Index

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    Links:

  • I-73 Corridor Homepage ---SCDOT
  • South Carolina I-73 Association
  • I-73 Progress in North Carolina ---Bob Malme
  • Interstate 73 @ Interstate-guide.com ---Alex Nitzman/Andy Field

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    Sources:

  • (1) SCDOT. "I-73 Corridor - Project History." http://www.dot.state.sc.us/Projects/I-73/history.html (July 31, 2004)
  • (2) SCDOT. "The Connector." January-March 1998 Issue.
  • (3) SC State House Bill 4826
  • (4) Wilson, Zane. "Interstate Measure Stalled." The Sun News. April 30, 2004.
  • (5) "m99spears." "Re: I-73." Message to Southeast Roads Mailing List. Aug. 19, 2003
  • (6) Tindal, Kevin. "Interstate corridor might go through Marion County." Florence Morning News. Oct. 2, 2003.
  • (7) Wilson, Zane. "Activists vow fight if I-73 plans move further south." The Sun News. July 19, 2003.
  • (8) Smith, Bruce. "I-73 permits could be in hand by late 2006." The State. June 3, 2004.
  • (9) Smith, Bruce. "Scope of I-73 corridor narrowed." The State. July 22, 2004.
  • (10) Wilson, Zane. "I-73 Studies Officially Begin." The Sun News. August 10, 2004
  • (11) Smith, Bruce. "Residents favor using existing corridors for I-73." The State. September 22, 2004.
  • (12) "Meeting Focuses on Routes for Interstate 73." The State. March 9, 2005
  • (13) Wilson, Zane. "Carolinas Reach Interstate Deal." The Sun News. February 12, 2005.
  • (14) Cole, Andy. "Funding for I-73 biggest hurdle." Florence Morning News. November 12, 2005
  • (15) Cole, Andy. "State gets $4 million to fund interstates." Florence Morning News. November 22, 2005
  • (16) Wilson, Zane. "S.C. sentaors offer to nix I-73 funds." The Sun News.  November 5, 2005
  • (17) Cole, Andy. "Choosing I-73 route not an easy task." Florence Morning News. November 14, 2005
  • (18) Wilson, Zane. "Rural residents divided on interstate's benefits." The Sun News. September 8, 2006
  • (19) Tritten, Travis. "Horry Pushes South on I-73." The Sun News. April 7, 2005
  • (20) Wilson, Zane. "Lawmaker: More Southern Path for I-73 Doable." The Sun News. May 6, 2005
  • (21) Wilson, Zane. "DOT Holds Fast to I-73 Routes." The Sun News. June 18, 2005
  • (22) Mishoe, Peggy. "Anyor picks I-73 route it likes best." The Sun News. February 28, 2006.
  • (23) Janelle, Chantile. "Residents speak out at first Interstate 73 public hearing." WIS-TV. June 16, 2006
  • (24) "I-73 route criticized in Dillon." The Sun News.  July 8, 2006.
  • (25) "Dillon pressured to accept I-73 proposal." The Sun News. July 9, 2006.
  • (26) Lansford, John. "I-73 Proposed as Toll Road." Post to misc.transport.road. December 16, 2003.
  • (27) "Jump-start Interstates." The Sun News. December 15, 2005.
  • (28) "Governor signs I-73 toll bill." The Sun News.  February 6, 2006.
  • (29) Wilson, Zane. "Senate panel backs wetland protection bill." The Sun News. March 23, 2006.
  • (30) Cole, Andy. "Panel to put price on I-73 Impact." The Sun News. November 3, 2006.
  • (31) Wilson, Zane. "Trade plan for wetland derailed." The Sun News. March 30, 2007.
  • (32) Cole, Andy. "I-73: Offer for preserve crossing rejected.  The Sun News. May 19, 2007.

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    Page Created: July 31, 2004
    Last Updated: July 1, 2007

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