— Tourism is one of South Carolina’s leading industries, and the Grand Strand is the economic engine driving this industry. More than 14 million tourists visit Horry and Georgetown counties each year, bringing with them hundreds of millions of tourism dollars. The two counties produce 36 percent of the state’s tourism dollars, which are spread around the state to fund health care, education and infrastructure projects.

In order to preserve this vibrant, successful tourist destination, South Carolina must invest in it.

The Grand Strand competes with Orlando, Las Vegas and Virginia Beach. Competition is fierce; and if infrastructure is ignored, South Carolina will be passed by. Thousands of visitors leave the Grand Strand each year and never return due to inadequate access. Our visitors’ biggest complaint, according to recent surveys: poor transportation infrastructure.

Interstate 73 would connect the Grand Strand with other parts of the state, I-95 and beyond. It would boost tourism by at least 7 percent, translating into an additional $900 million in direct tourism spending in the Myrtle Beach area alone. This influx in tourism spending would bring South Carolina more revenue via tourism and sales tax dollars. Ultimately, the $2.4 billion project would have a $4.1 billion economic impact on the regional economy, not only paying for itself but generating additional revenue for the state.

The benefits wouldn’t stop at the beach. It is no secret that South Carolina’s unemployment rate is too high. This interstate would cross through some of the most economically deprived counties in the state, creating a much-needed economic boost. Eighty percent of relocating companies seek a location within five miles of an interstate. Access to I-73 would create economic opportunities and thousands of jobs in these impoverished counties.

As our economy slowly inches out of recession, I-73 would provide an important boost. I-73 is projected to create 7,000 jobs annually for the five years of construction and 22,000 permanent jobs after construction and have a total economic impact of $1.98 billion each year.

I-73 also would greatly improve South Carolinians’ quality of life. Those 14 million annual visitors to the Grand Strand must travel on roads built more than 60 years ago. These roads were not built to carry this amount of traffic, which is evident by the gridlock visitors and locals experience in the summertime. On a busy summer day, the 14-mile trip from Conway to Myrtle Beach can take an hour or more. That’s part of what keeps people from coming back.

During a hurricane evacuation, the inadequate and outdated road system could prove deadly. On any given weekend during tourist season, hundreds of thousands of visitors crowd our beaches. The inadequate road system means it takes longer to evacuate, which means the governor has to order an evacuation earlier. But sometimes the evacuations prove unnecessary, which costs our state millions in lost tourism dollars. I-73 would dramatically reduce the Grand Strand’s evacuation time.

South Carolina is blessed to have one of the nation’s top tourist destinations. It provides the state with hundreds of millions of tourism tax dollars annually. If the Grand Strand is to remain a top destination, it must provide interstate access. Infrastructure is an investment, and an investment in access to the Grand Strand via I-73 would pay a handsome dividend to all South Carolinians.

Mr. Rice represents South Carolina’s new Seventh Congressional District; Mr. Clemmons represents Horry County in the S.C. House; Mr. Wooten is a member of the state Transportation Commission. Contact them at tom.rice@mail.house.gov, RepClemmons@gmail.com or jmw@ddcinc.com.

Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2013/06/07/2805779/rice-clemmons-wooten-i-73-essential.html#storylink=cpy