By Kyle Grainger
The candidates for governor were invited to Myrtle Beach to talk about the importance of the future Interstate 73 and give their thoughts on how to pay for the road.
"I think it's important to get both candidates on the record before the election, and we know both support I-73," said Rep. Alan Clemmons.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Vincent Sheheen was the only candidate to join Grand Strand and Pee Dee leaders on a discussion of Interstate 73. Republican candidate Nikki Haley said she had a prior event scheduled in Charleston, and send Representative Thad Viers to speak in her absence.
There was a lengthy discussion on why Haley didn't attend the meeting, Viers responded by saying he felt it was ironic that the meeting was scheduled last Friday for a day that Sheheen was already set to appear in Myrtle Beach for an interview on WMBF News This Week. Sheheen responded by saying he would have attended the meeting anyway.
The meeting was organized by NESA, the Northeastern Strategic Alliance, after federal Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood told 73 supporters that in order to get money in a federal highway reauthorization bill, the governor would need to lead the way. Rep. Doug Jennings, says that when the meeting was organized both candidates had a clear schedule for the time that was chose.
Both candidates said they believe Interstate 73 is an important project for the state and said when elected governor they would bring together all the governors of the state 73 would pass through so they were all on the same page.
"Nikki believes we need I-73 but we need a long term vision and we need to make sure it's done right," said Rep. Thad Viers. "The next governor of South Carolina is going to have to tackle this issue. That's why today I was pleased to announce the governor Haley would be convening an I-73 summit if elected governor, all the governors."
"We have not had a team approach," said Sheheen. "We haven't had the leader to push the team forward. My goal is to be that leader to bring the team together regardless if their republicans or democrats or independents, bring the team together go make it happen. "
Haley was criticized for not supporting Interstate 73 in a bill sponsored by Rep. Alan Clemmons. A spokesperson for Haley released this statement in response to the questions that were raised about her support of the project.
"Nikki Haley's strong support for I-73 has been widely documented and is well known by Grand Strand residents. Trailing in the polls, saddled by his support for ObamaCare and caught profiting on the backs of taxpayers, liberal trial lawyer Vince Sheheen is pulling another desperate stunt. But unfortunately for Grand Strand residents, this time it's at the expense of efforts to complete I-73."
Sheheen says he'd like to see construction of Interstate 73 start within the next four years. He says he supports ways to pay for the road through tolls, a national transportation bank, and public private partnerships.
Viers says Haley supports public private partnerships, but doesn't support tolls on existing roads. He says she doesn't believe earmarks from Washington are a viable way to get the amount of money needed to make 73 happen sooner.
Supporters of Interstate 73 hope to get enough money to start building an interchange at Interstate 95 in Dillon County. Right now there's $75 Million dollars in the bank to pay for that, but South Carolina Department of Transportation Chairman Danny Isaac says he needs to find 75 million more to pay for the whole project. Supporters hope by building the interchange that it will show the federal government how serious Interstate 73 is to the state.