MARLBORO COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Members of the Marlboro County Council say they’re reserving their support of the Interstate 73 project after announcing a resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting.
County administrator Ron Munnerlyn says the county is not against the construction of I-73, but right now they feel the project will have more of a negative impact on the county.
“Splitting the county, creating a situation where our businesses here now suffer because the highway’s moved away from the center of town,” Munnerlyn said.
The decades-long I-73 project will create shorter travel to Myrtle Beach, connecting the Grand Strand to the state’s interstate system.
Melissa Claire-Malette, owner of The Oyster, an antique shop in downtown Bennettesville, said she opened the store last June because of the high traffic from area travelers.
“Whether they’re going to the beach or not, they’re cutting through and it’s very nice that half of them are diverted via GPS apps through historical downtown and past my store,” she said.
Claire-Malette said it’s not just the businesses attracting people passing by, but drivers enjoy exploring the scenery too, which she said may also be at risk with the construction of I-73.
“I think it could really hurt us,” Claire-Malette said. “They love to break up the drive and see the charm and architectural integrity of the town. When they come in here that’s all they talk about.”
Instead, the county proposes the widening of Highway 38, from Bennettesville to North Carolina, from two lanes to four lanes. Munnerlyn said the expansion will take less time and cost $30 to $50 million versus the billions of dollars it will cost to build I-73.
“It would not be limited access like an interstate, so our existing business will benefit and we can develop economic development properties that already have infrastructure there,” Munnerlyn said.
In response to the county’s decision, Congressman Tom Rice sent a statement saying:
I am glad that Marlboro County Council is engaged on I-73. Marlboro County has a shrinking population and an unemployment rate of 8.2%, almost double the state average. I-73 will attract more people and new industry to this area, creating badly needed jobs and bolstering existing businesses by bringing in more customers. I will continue to work to bring opportunity to my constituents, and that is exactly what I-73 will do.
Still, Munnerlyn says the county believes the project is better for travelers and, most importantly, those in the community.
“We’re all about people getting to the beach. We want them to stop here first and 38 will give you a good mix of that,” Munnerlyn said.
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