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I-73 Tolls Stall...but the project keeps rolling along.

From Today's Sun News:

A bill that would make Interstate 73 a toll road stalled indefinitely Thursday after two senators put a block on the measure.

Supporters of the road hoped to get the bill out quickly to show Congress that South Carolina is ready to pay its share to build Horry County's first interstate highway link. Congress kicked in $81 million for I-73 in last year's five-year highway bill, and members have promised more each year, but they want to see a toll put on the road because they can't promise the entire $2 billion price tag.

The House passed the bill in three days, but the same measure in the Senate came to a halt last week when two senators tried to amend it to include a toll on I-95.

One senator who wants the toll on I-95 put a block on the bill until his amendment is accepted, and a senator who opposes a toll on I-95 also blocked the bill.

Senate rules allow a member to block consideration of a bill indefinitely, unless a two-thirds majority forces the measure to a vote.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-
Bonneau, said he put his block on the bill to prevent the I-95 toll amendment and he hopes the dispute can be worked out soon.

"I am a friend of the bill. I want the I-73 thing to pass," Grooms said.

He said he wants the bill held up until supporters can muster enough votes to overcome the I-95 amendment.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, and Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman, proposed the amendment to the I-73 toll bill that would put a toll booth on I-95 near Orangeburg, with the money to be used to maintain and improve the highway.

Hutto put a block on the bill when objections were raised to his amendment.

Grooms said a toll on I-95 might be needed but the I-73 bill isn't the place to accomplish that. "That's a separate issue, and it should be a separate bill," Grooms said.

"My hope is that we get that taken care of," said Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "It's a great project, and we need to get this bill out of here."

I'm not surprised that this happened once the two senators from Orangeburg threw in admendments for tolling I-95. Senator Grooms blocked the bill only because of the I-95 toll proposal and the other two blocked it because they were not going to get their wish for a toll booth on I-95.

This is just normal politics whether at the federal or local level. The I-95 measure should be on a seperate bill espescially since it is an existing Interstate highway and would need Federal approval first. If the two Orangeburg Senators believe that this bill would create tolls on I-95, they are largely mistaken.

It will take awhile for the issue to sort itself out. But this will not be the last we hear of a toll proposal for I-73. This will be an issue during each new legislative session. Stay tuned, this week's defeat for tolling I-73 is only a slight diversion towards its eventual completion. The bill does not stop any current studies on the eventual path of the highway or the plans for the $85 million in funding for the highway gained last year.

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