Since Congress approved a $3 million earmark for the Interstate 73 project, the SCDOT Commission has approved the use of a consultant to complete an initial environmental document.
In June 2003, the SCDOT staff completed a feasibility study that identified a 5,000 square mile study area for I-73 in South Carolina. Within the study area, the SCDOT conducted a planning level review to identify projected traffic volumes and preliminary environmental impacts associated with new location alternatives, as well as the upgrade of existing routes US 501 and SC 9 to interstate standards. The SCDOT study is preliminary, and was intended to initiate further environmental and engineering analyses. The review assessed environmental and social constraints, estimated traffic demand, alignment and design criteria, and preliminary costs of the project.
Potential I-73 corridors for the entire project would be approximately 90 miles in length with projected traffic volumes of approximately 60,000 vehicles per day. Preliminary cost estimates range between $1 and $2 billion.
In mid-2004, SCDOT selected a consultant to perform the studies necessary to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). During the summer of 2004, the project team prepared two Notices of Intent (one for a project from I-95 to the South Carolina/North Carolina State line, and another for a project from I-95 to the Myrtle Beach area) which were published in August.
A summit meeting between representatives of South Carolina and North Carolina was conducted in early February 2005. Based on this summit, SCDOT and the study team have revised the scope of the project between I-95 and the South Carolina/North Carolina State line to include the study of a project of North Carolina in the Rockingham/Hamlet area (Richmond County). This resulted in the publishing of a revised Notice of Intent for the Northern project on July 22, 2005.
A Public Scoping Meeting was conducted on August 30, 2005 at the Marlboro County High School in Bennettsville and on November 28, 2005 at the Cole Auditorium at the Richmond County Community College in Hamlet, NC.
Using input received from the public at these meetings, as well as from the various resource and regulatory agencies involved with this project, the Project Team developed Potential Alternative Corridors that were presented to the public during Public Information Meetings in Bennettsville on September 7, 2006 and in Hamlet, NC on September 12, 2006.
The Draft EIS was approved in July 2007 and circulated for comments. It included a Recommended Preferred Alternative. Public Hearings were conducted on August 14 in Bennettsville, and on August 28 in Hamlet, North Carolina.
S.C. Secretary of Transportation H.B. “Buck” Limehouse and FHWA Division Administrator Bob Lee signed the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for I-73 North on August 6, 2008. This project was a cooperative effort between SCDOT and NCDOT. The EIS for this project was initiated with the Notice of Intent, published in the Federal Register in July 2005. The 37 months to bring the project to the approval of the Final Environmental Impact Statement is much less than the national average of over 5 years.
The Record of Decision (ROD) was signed on August 6, 2008 by Secretary of Transportation H.B. (Buck) Limehouse and FHWA Division Administrator Bob Lee. The ROD allows the project to move forward into the design and right-of-way acquisition stages of the project.
“The signing of the ROD is another major milestone for I-73 that is necessary as we work to identify the most viable measures to deliver the project,” Limehouse said. “One of the potential methods for funding I-73 involves innovative financing through public/private partnerships. SCDOT is working to solicit interest from the private sector with the intention that we receive a proposal to finance, design, construct and maintain I-73 here in South Carolina. This milestone today would allow us to receive better proposals from the private sector.” Lee said the national average for processing environmental documents exceeds five years. However, because of the streamlined approach the I-73 project completed the environmental phase from Notice of Intent to Record of Decision in just 39 months. This innovative approach to project development has gained the attention of FHWA Administrator Thomas J. Madison. Members of the FHWA and SCDOT project team will received the Administrator’s Award for their work in streamlining this project in a ceremony held November 5, 2008 in Washington, DC.
Section 404 wetland permit application for I-73 has been submitted
A Clean Water Act Section 401/404 permit application for impacts from the I-73 project on wetlands, streams, and other jurisdictional waters, was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) on January 4, 2011. SCDOT is working with the USACE and SCDHEC to process this major permit application, which includes potential construction impacts and a plan for providing mitigation for the unavoidable wetland and stream impacts associated with I-73. The permit application was issued for a 30-day public review period on January 26, 2011. SCDOT has conducted several coordination meetings with the USACE and SCDHEC to address public and agency comments that were received as a result of the public notice. Agency review of the permit application is ongoing, as is SCDOT coordination with these agencies.