An environmental group has added an economic study to its arguments against proposed new Interstate 73, designed to run through northeastern South Carolina to Myrtle Beach. Nancy Cave, North Coast Office director of the Coastal Conservation League says they commissioned the study to compare the economic impact of the new interstate versus expanding an existing route, SC 38/U.S. 501.
The report by independent firm Miley and Associates summarizes, “This existing corridor, referred to by proponents as the Grand Strand Expressway (GSX), offers substantial economic benefits at one-tenth of I-73’s estimated $1.3 billion cost and would result in improved access to the Myrtle Beach tourism market.”
The new study is more of a rebuttal to one done by Chmura Economics and Analytics that is cited by I-73 advocates and estimates$2.0 billion and “22,347 jobs in South Carolina in 2030 and beyond.”
Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says the Miley report “Leaves a lot of gaping holes and raises more questions than answers,” says Dean. “First of all, they really don’t give specifics on the types of jobs or industry created. they simply says that they can create jobs by building something other than I-73. And there is virtually no mention of tourism in the Grand Strand — which employs more than 74-thousand people.” Official I-73 website.
Dean says some of those questions are, “How are we going to handle not only the tourists coming in today, but the growth of tourism in the future? Perhaps the biggest omission and the one the clearly ignored throughout this study is the need for additional hurricane evacuation routes. What will we do int he event of a large Hurricane Katrina-type storm that lands on or near the coast of Myrtle Beach? The Grand Strand Expressway certainly is not going to get out the numbers that we need to get out if we are going to save lives.”
Another argument by coastal conservationists is that a new interstate would threaten the livelihoods of businesses along 38/501 that depend on tourist traffic. Cave says those jobs might be replaced, but with minimum wage fast-food type jobs typically found at interstate exits.
Dean adamantly disagrees. “I find it ironic and frankly a little naive that in an area of South Carolina that has had historically high unemployment, double-digit unemployment, even in good times that we would actually suggest that infrastructure would take jobs away. When you have 15,20, 30 percent unemployment or underemployment, infrastructure bringing new jobs is not a problem, it’s actually a solution,” Dean counters.
Both aides agree that the money is not there right now to complete either project.
AUDIO: Cave has dim outlook for financing new highway (:28)
AUDIO: Dean says funding is underway and project needs to be completed. (:28)