- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Plans to build Interstate 73 in South Carolina and provide the Grand Strand with its first interstate access are being revived by the state Department of Transportation.

The State newspaper reports (http://bit.ly/1SC7H9b ) the state Transportation Commission approved a new plan Thursday that officials hope will ease environmental concerns about building the interstate through the northeastern corner of the state.

The plan preserves Gunter’s Island in Horry County in exchange for wetlands destroyed building the highway.

“This puts the road directly on the path to construction,” said Transportation Department commissioner Mike Wooten, who represents Horry and surrounding counties.

The interstate has been discussed for years and is planned to eventually link South Carolina and Michigan. Some opposed to the construction of new state roads said money should go instead to repair and improve existing roads.

Another concern is money. The section of I-73 in South Carolina is projected to cost about $2.4 billion. Wooten said about $46.5 million in federal and state money has been set aside for the project.

“A good rule of thumb, moving forward right now with the money that we are currently putting toward transportation, is to make a priority maintaining and repairing what we already have,” State Sen. Tom Davis said Thursday.

Conservationists also question the need for building the interstate. In the past, conservationists have favored upgrading U.S. 501/S.C. 38, instead of building a multi-billion-dollar interstate.

Environmentalists have said that the route for I-73 would cut through a state nature preserve and some of the most significant hardwood swamps in eastern South Carolina’s Pee Dee region.

“The first question that has to be answered is whether this project is necessary,” said Dana Beach, director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League. “We have said that it is not.”

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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