The results of our new poll are now in as of 11 p.m. Jan 4th. 89.36% of tourists and locals prefer the Myrtle Beach Expressway to connect with I-95 at Highway 9 in Dillon, S.C. and run directly into North Myrtle Beach.
The most recent results as of this post from 13,232 MyrtleBeachSC.com viewers who have responded so far are below. This is not a scientific poll. We will continue to update these numbers as they change.
Despite our reader’s strong support of a Hwy 9 Expressway, Brad Dean, President of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber, continues to push a $2.4 billion construction project that would connect I-95 to Highway 22. The funds needed to pay for that road would require tourists and locals to pay tolls. Only 10.64 percent of those polled were willing to pay tolls for such a project.
The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber has also produced reports and commercials stating that the I-73 project they prefer will produce 29,000 jobs for the area.
A report we acquired from Tom Stickler, a local Pawley’s Island engineer, challenged many of the assumptions made by Brad Dean and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. That report reads as follows:
The promoters of I-73 have relentlessly stated that I-73 would “create 29,000 jobs,” obviously relying on the Economic Impact of I-73 in South Carolina study conducted by Chmura Economics & Analytics, commissioned by the North Eastern Strategic Alliance. (A Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce Allied Concern)
Chmura relies on responses to a 2005 survey conducted by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to estimate the potential increase in tourism visits as a result of the reduction in travel time after I-73 is complete. The survey asked the targeted visitors the maximum number of hours they are willing to drive to Myrtle Beach for a long vacation (5-7 days) or a short stay (3-4 days).
The percentage of targeted population willing to travel declines as necessary travel hours increase. Chmura argues that the converse is true: that when the travel time is reduced as a result of the new interstate connection, a similar percentage of additional or return visitors will be willing to travel to the Myrtle Beach area.
Chmura shows Figure 7.2 representing Hours Willing to Travel to Myrtle Beach for 5-7 days; Figure 7.3 for 3-4 days.
These figures show graphically how an additional hour or two of travel time reduces the percentage of travelers. Chmura then argues, “The survey results indicate that when travel time increases by two hours, on average, 8.2% of the targeted visitors for a 5-7 day vacation will be lost. For a 3-4 day vacation, when the travel time increases two hours, 10.2% will be lost. The opposite is true that when the travel time is reduced as a result of the new interstate connection—a similar percentage of additional visitors will be willing to travel to the Myrtle Beach area.
“During the peak tourist season, direct interstate access can potentially reduce travel time to Myrtle Beach by two hours. During off-peak season, however, travel time can be reduced by one hour. Figures 7.2 and 7.3 imply that each one hour of travel time leads to an attrition of 4.1% for a 5 to 7 day vacation, and 5.1% for a 3 to 4 day vacation.
“Fifty-eight percent of Myrtle Beach tourists visit the area during peak season and 42% visit during off-peak season. In addition 62% of Myrtle Beach visitors stay 5 to 7 days in the area, while 42% [38%?] of Myrtle Beach visitors stay 3 to 4 days. Combining the information, it is estimated that I-73 can potentially increase tourist volume by 7.1%.”
It appears Chmura obtained this result from a matrix similar to this: [correcting Chmura’s math above]
DAYS PEAK OFF-PEAK 7.0784% TOTAL increase in tourist travel due to travel time saved by I-73.
VISIT GAIN GAIN ———-
62% 5-7 8.2% 2.9487 = 8.2% X 0.62 X 0.58
62% 5-7 4.1% 1.0676 = 4.1% X 0.62 X 0.42
38% 3-4 10.2% 2.2481 = 10.2% X 0.38 X 0.58
38% 3-4 5.1% 0.8140 = 5.1% X 0.38 X 0.42
Chmura then calculates: “Based on the latest survey of visitors conducted by Equation Research in 2010, the annual visitor volume to Myrtle Beach is assumed to be 15.2 million. Based on a 2009 study, each travel party consisted on average of 4 people who stayed in the area for 5.6 nights, with average spending of $98 per person per day. A 7.1% boost in tourism business could result in an increase in total tourism expenditure by $909.9 million in 2030 dollars in the Myrtle Beach Area.”
This calculation appears to be projected from 15,200,000 X 0.071 X 5.6 X $98 = $592,264,960 (2009 dollars) Chmura then predicts that “In 2030, the annual total Economic Impact of Increased Tourism expenditure in Myrtle Beach would be $1.4 billion (Table 7.7). Of this, $909.9 million is direct spending within the regional tourism industry.
In terms of job creation, increased tourism spending can potentially support 18,856 jobs in South Carolina. Of these, 12,669 jobs will exist within the Myrtle Beach regional tourism industry, while 6,187 jobs will be created by ripple spending effects around the state of South Carolina.”
The first major error in this series of miscalculations is in the amount of travel time saved by constructing I-73. Table 7.1 of Chmura’s own report, on page 25, shows a travel reduction of only 20 minutes in the southern segment of I-73 – from I-95 to Myrtle Beach — over the present route of SC 38/US 501/SC 22. The I-73 Federal Environmental Impact
Statement (FEIS) agrees with this estimate, with a possible savings of 30 minutes in peak travel times. The current route is four lanes with only two traffic signals from the SC 22/US 501 junction to I-95. Indeed, the new construction from I-95 to SC 22 is only 43.5 miles. Thus, Chmura has overstated the time saved in peak periods by a factor of four (120 minutes vs. 30), and the non-peak time saved by a factor of three (60 minutes vs. 20). This will reduce Chmura’s calculated averages at every point on the graphical curves of Figures 7.2 and 7.3. The calculation matrix using the
FEIS time savings applied to the same 2005 MBACC survey data now looks like this:
DAYS PEAK OFF-PEAK 1.9272% TOTAL compared to Chmura’s 7.0784% increase in tourism.
VISIT GAIN GAIN ———-
62% 5-7 2.05% 0.7372 = 2.05% X 0.62 X 0.58
62% 5-7 1.37% 0.3567 = 1.37% X 0.62 X 0.42
38% 3-4 2.55% 0.5620 = 2.55% X 0.38 X 0.58
38% 3-4 1.70% 0.2713 = 1.70% X 0.38 X 0.42
Thus, the first major error made by Chmura has nearly quadrupled the effect of travel time savings provided by I-73.
The second major error Chmura makes is applying this projected increase in tourism to the entire estimated 15.2 million tourist visits per year, even though it is stated previously in Section 7.4.1 on page 30 “Over 80% of visitors to Myrtle Beach travel by cars; 70% of which arrive via I- 95.” This reduces the percentage travelling on I-95 to 56% of the annual total. This percentage is still too large, since an even smaller subset of these I-95 tourists would take advantage of the entire length of I-73, including the existing segment of SC 22, in traveling from I-95 to their Grand Strand destinations.
It has always been difficult to discriminate between tourist traffic and local daily commuters on our roads. Tourists that have visited Myrtle Beach, who might use I-73 if it were built, currently travel from I-95 via SC 38, US 501 and SC 22. The tourist portion of that traffic could never exceed the number using the least-traveled segment of that route.
A segment of SC 38 in Marion County between US 501 and the Dillon County line has averaged less than 5000 AADT for the six years 2006 – 2011, and SCDOT count station 118 on SC 22 very near the proposed I-73 interchange has averaged less than 5300 AADT over the same period. Some portion of this is still daily commuter traffic, but even considering it to be totally tourist traffic in these isolated rural segments of the current route from I-95 to Myrtle Beach, these AADT counts indicate that no more than 3,869,000 tourists annually come to Myrtle Beach via the existing route that I-73 would replace. To calculate this, divide the AADT by two (since we don’t want to count the visitors coming and going), multiply by 4 tourists per vehicle, then by 365 days/year: 5300/2 X 4 X 365 = 3,869,000
The Economic Impact of Increased Tourism calculation from building I-73 now becomes:
3,869,000 X 0.0193 X 5.6 X $98 = $40,979,829 – let’s be generous and round up to $41 million (in 2009 dollars)
Compare this to the $592,264,960 (in 2009 dollars) Economic Impact of Increased Tourism expenditure predicted by Chmura. The realistic increased tourism expenditure is less than 7% of that. Remember those 18,856 jobs that Chmura claimed would be created just by increased tourism spending alone? Something on the order of 1,305 jobs total, direct and indirect, would be nearer the mark.
We can go further in other areas where Chmura has over-predicted economic effects of I-73. Chmura predicts that service businesses will be built at the various interchanges along I-73: In terms of job creation, service businesses are estimated to support 2,231 jobs in 2030 (Table 7.4). By jurisdiction, Horry County is likely to acquire more than half the jobs along I-73, as sections of road in Horry County around the city of Myrtle Beach carry the largest amount of traffic. Dillon County ranks second as it has a major intersection with I-95, which would be a concentration of motels and restaurants. That is followed in number by Marion and Marlboro Counties. To arrive at these estimates, Chmura calculated the average employment per business establishment in the I-73 Corridor in Virginia. For example, an average gas station in the I-73 Corridor in Virginia employs eight workers and an average motel employs 23 workers.
The average number of workers is 20 for fast food restaurants and 22 for full-service restaurants.
The annual economic impact of I-73 service businesses in South Carolina is estimated to be $401.9 million in 2030 (Table 7.5). Of this, $259.1 million is direct spending on food, lodging, and gasoline at service stations. Over $142.8 million is derived from indirect and induced economic impacts. This effect indicates that for every $1 spent by I-73 motorists, the overall economic impacts can reach $1.55.
In terms of job creation, spending at I-73 business services can potentially generate 3,205 jobs in South Carolina in 2030, with the majority of them located in the I-73 Corridor. Of these, 2,231 jobs will be located at service businesses along I-73, while 974 jobs will be created by ripple spending effects.
Chmura estimates in Table 7.3 on page 27 that completing I-73 will result in 24 motels, 17 gas stations, 15 fast-food restaurants and 13 sit-down restaurants being built at the five SC 22 interchanges just in Horry County alone by 2030.
Table 7.4 on page 28 projects that these businesses will employ 1262 people.
SC 22 has been open for more than ten years, serving that portion of tourists for whom this is a convenient route to and from their Myrtle Beach destinations, in addition to daily commuter traffic. After ten years, there are two businesses at just one interchange, both convenience store/gas stations with a fast-food franchise co-located.
The third major error made by Chmura is that these predicted new service businesses would produce a net gain in South Carolina’s economy, with no competitive impact on the existing businesses that serve tourists travelling the current roads that I-73 would supplant.
Other claims that I-73 will result in new businesses locating along the route of I-73 just because of its definition as an Interstate Highway are equally suspect. SC 38, US 501 and SC 22 are already the practical equivalent to an Interstate Highway in meeting the transportation needs of businesses, not only for the shipping of goods, but for employee travel access.
After all this recalculation, it appears that the claim of “29,000 jobs” is completely without foundation.
The 18,856 jobs predicted just from the increase in tourism may be realistically only 1,305. The 3,205 jobs predicted to result from new highway service business are challenged by the history along SC 22, and fail to account for business loss along the current roads.
The Chmura Economic Impact of I-73 in South Carolina report is not the only study to make unrealistically optimistic projections of future I-73 traffic. The I-73 FEIS predicts that the completed I-73 will funnel so much additional traffic onto the SC 22 segment that traffic counts at SCDOT station 118 for Horry County will increase from 5600 AADT in 2006 (the baseline for the FEIS) to over 26,800 AADT by 2030. Compare this 380% increase at the bottom end of the new I-73 segment with the projected increase in I-95 traffic of just 55% at the new I-73/I-95 interchange at the top over the same time span. The Dillon County SCDOT count station 193 on SC 38 just south of I-95 had 8900 AADT in
2006. The FEIS predicts I-73 traffic south of the proposed new I-95 interchange to be 12990 AADT in 2030, an increase of only 46% over the 2006 AADT on the current tourist route from I-95. Interstate 73 is a grandiose, over-promoted boondoggle, an unnecessary duplication of an existing road network that serves its current travelers quite well. The traffic jams on US 501 from Myrtle Beach to and through Conway would gain negligible benefit from I-73. A glance at a map makes this clear. The question remains why anyone continues to promote I-73 with the exaggerated claims of job creation disproven above.
Our readers agree. It appears cheaper, wiser, and quicker to simply enhance Highway 9 as an expressway from I-95 directly into North Myrtle Beach. The big money, and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber are having non of it, however.
While our readers have stated a clear, common sense approach. We shall see who wins out in this battle of big money and special interests.