Millions in S.C. tax dollars shelled out for second ‘phantom’ interstate

October 9, 2019

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

Interstate 73 isn’t the only nonexistent South Carolina highway that has been heavily subsidized with state tax dollars.

From fiscal 2006 through fiscal 2013, S.C. lawmakers quietly appropriated a total of $4 million for the “routing, planning, and construction” of Interstate 74, which runs through parts of North Carolina. The annual $500,000 was authorized through the same state budget proviso that funneled another $500,000 yearly for the proposed I-73 project.

The Nerve recently asked the state departments of Commerce and Transportation under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act for records on how the $4 million for the proposed I-74 project was spent. Commerce spokeswoman Alex Clark said the money was transferred annually from Commerce to the DOT, which informed The Nerve in writing that it has “no documents responsive to your request.”

To put the $4 million in some perspective, it’s more than the total budgets this fiscal year of about a dozen state agencies, including, for example, the State Ethics Commission, Inspector General’s Office and the Legislative Audit Council – the Legislature’s investigative arm.

As with I-73, not one drop of concrete has been poured for I-74 in South Carolina. The Nerve last month revealed that the DOT has spent at least $77 million since 2004 on the I-73 project and can’t account for a collective $8 million authorized for the project over the period through the state budget proviso.

On Friday, The Nerve reported that a lobbying firm hired by Gov. Henry McMaster at $15,000 a month has been spending part of its time working to help get federal funding for the I-73 project. The DOT earlier this year applied for a $348 million federal grant to develop the southern leg of the project stretching from U.S. 76 in Marion County to S.C. 22 near Myrtle Beach in Horry County.

As for the proposed I-74 route in South Carolina, a map on the website of a Myrtle Beach-based organization called the National I-73/I-74/I-75 Corridor Association shows a merged I-73/I-74 running south through North Carolina between Charlotte and Fayetteville and into South Carolina through Marlboro, Dillon and Marion counties to S.C. 22 in Horry County.

I-73 and I-74 currently total about 100 miles and 75 miles, respectively, in North Carolina.

The corridor association on its site describes itself as a “membership organization committed to enhancing the economic success and quality of life within the six-state corridor (South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan) by pursuing the planning, permitting, funding, construction, and maintenance of Interstate 73, Interstate 74 and Interstate 75, highways of national and regional significance that will facilitate interstate commerce, reduce congestion and improve safety in an environmentally sound way.”

The organization’s board chairman is S.C. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, who was elected to lead the board when the group reorganized in 2007, according to its website. Former state DOT Commission chairman Mike Wooten is the board’s secretary-treasurer.

In February, Clemmons submitted a letter on behalf of the corridor association to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao supporting the state DOT’s application for the $348 million federal grant for the I-73 project in South Carolina. The organization in 2017 spent a total of $80,000 on a federal lobbyist, records show.

The last publicly available federal income-tax return from 2009 shows that the corridor association then had $114,500 in total revenues that year and $102,419 in total expenses, $72,461 of which was spent on “advertising and promotion.”

Shannon Wiley, the chief attorney for the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office, told The Nerve earlier this year the organization is not required to register with the state because its revenues are based on annual membership dues ($100 for individuals, $500 for businesses, according to its website), and the group doesn’t expect to receive other fundraising contributions totaling more than $7,500 this year.

Clemmons, Wooten and Jimmy Gray, the organization’s president and executive director, did not return phone messages last week from The Nerve seeking comment.

Brundrett is the news editor of The Nerve (www.thenerve.org). Contact him at 803-254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RickBrundrett. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.

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