Graham’s earmark: $12M for highway to South Carolina beaches

Sen. Lindsey Graham is pushing for federal funding to help construct a new interstate in South Carolina, connecting I-95 to Myrtle Beach. He told The Associated Press he’s formally requesting $12 million to revive a project that has been delayed for decades.

“I believe it is a critical infrastructure project for the Grand Strand and the state of South Carolina as a whole,” Graham said in a statement provided to AP, describing a beach resort area at the heart of the state’s multi billion-dollar tourism industry.

“The Grand Strand is a cash cow for the state, and I am determined to help provide a better means of transportation for those traveling to and from this tourist destination,” he added.

Graham’s earmark would fund right-of-way acquisition for the project, which was on a list of requests submitted to the Republican this month by the Horry County Council. Congress first required a study for Interstate 73 four decades ago, but the project has been mired in disputes over who would foot the bill.

Costs for the right-of-way acquisition have been estimated at $15 million, requiring a 20% non-federal match, so local and state officials will be responsible for the remaining $3 million, Graham said.

In 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a construction permit covering the entire 80-mile stretch to the North Carolina border, but proponents have focused on the 42-mile southern section, which would link Interstate 95 to the Conway Bypass. The long-sought direct conduit to the beach for visitors from other parts of the country has been estimated to cost $2 billion.

Graham has long lobbied for the project, which is also supported by Gov. Henry McMaster, a fellow Republican. Other area leaders, including 7th District Rep. Tom Rice, asked McMaster to spend some of the state’s federal coronavirus aid money on the project, which the governor has said he’s considered doing.

The member-directed spending request, which Graham is making to the Senate Appropriations Committee, is possible for the first time in more than a decade after the revival of earmarking. Often called “pork barrel” spending, because lawmakers would divert funds to pet projects in their states, the practice was banished from the House and Senate a decade ago, when it was linked to corruption.

Critics thought too many projects went to a handful of powerful lawmakers and fostered a “pay to play” culture in which campaign contributions were often solicited from lobbyists and others.

The moratorium was enforced through the years by party rules and committee protocols, not House or Senate rules, or force of law.

Earmarks have since been restored, with a new requirement that lawmakers disclose and defend what they now call “community project funding.” The change came as lawmakers in both parties grew frustrated by their inability to shape spending legislation and worried that Congress has ceded too much of the power of the purse to the executive branch.

In making the request, Graham is breaking with more than 100 congressional Republicans, who are refusing to earmark as a matter of principle. Rep. Ralph Norman, Graham’s fellow South Carolina Republican, has several times introduced an earmark ban in the House.

Only one other member of South Carolina’s delegation, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, has requested an earmark, asking for $44 million for ten community projects, including a water infrastructure effort in the Lowcountry and renovations at several colleges and universities.

“Every person will be able to judge for themselves if these are worthwhile requests,” Graham said. “I believe I-73 certainly fits the bill and when completed, it will pay dividends for our state for years to come.”

___ Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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