I-73 supporters make their argument to GOP presidential candidates

For the first time ever, supporters of I-73, the long-planned interstate highway connection to Myrtle Beach, are making their pitch to presidential candidates.

I-73 backers want the six GOP candidates coming to Myrtle Beach for the January 16th debate to be well-versed on the planned project.

The presidential candidates have yet to arrive on the Grand Strand, but that didn't stop I-73 supporters from promoting the project Friday.

They have a flashy new bus to show off, bearing banners and signs touting what supporters claim would be the benefits of the freeway. Supporters plan to park the bus near the Myrtle Beach Convention Center's entrance, so the candidates can't miss seeing it as they walk in for the debate.

With the bus, plus I-73 signs, logos and gifts, supporters have one goal in mind.

"Whoever the next presidential nominee is will know about I-73 when they leave Myrtle Beach," said Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce president Brad Dean.

Dean and other supporters say I-73 would create 29,000 new jobs in the state, bring more tourists to Myrtle Beach and aid hurricane evacuation.

Those may be old arguments, but I-73 backers want the GOP presidential candidates to hear them too, and they want the candidates to start addressing the nation's infrastructure needs.

"The issue of creating a plan for infrastructure funding and building for America's future can become a part of the presidential debate issues that we'll be hearing in the coming months," said State Rep. Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach.

But an environmentalist who attended Friday's media event said an upgrade to existing U.S. Highways 38 and 501 could accomplish the same goals as I-73, at a fraction of the cost and with less impact on the environment.

As for all the I-73 jobs, she said, those would be years away.

"If we fix our roads and we put that as our priority, we will create jobs because we will be doing construction on the roads and bridges now and there will be jobs," said Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League.

Cave applauded I-73 supporters for bringing up the need for prioritizing national infrastructure projects. But she said that doesn't mean I-73 should be a part of that infrastructure plan.

"Our roads are crumbling, our bridges are crumbling and to spend $2.4 billion on I-73 is not prioritization policy, not good prioritization policy," Cave said.

Dean said I-73 opponents have had 30 years to come up with a better plan and haven't done it.

"Our question to the critics is, what is it you don't like about I-73? More jobs, more tourists, improved infrastructure, or additional hurricane evacuation routes?" Dean said.

The I-73 supporters organized Friday's media event in cooperation with a pro-infrastructure group called Building America's Future. The organization says vehicle travel in South Carolina will increase by 45 percent by the year 2025.