NCDOT's official I-73 corridor until early 2005 ended at the US 220/US 74 interchange. It was long proposed that I-73 would be routed to the South Carolina border from the US 74 Rockingham Bypass freeway to South Carolina along a new US 1 freeway to be constructed just to the east of the existing highway. This was shown in may NCDOT publications.1 NCDOT has a project (Number R-2501) to widen US 1 from the South Carolina line northward and build a new US 1 Bypass east of Rockingham, I-73 was thought to be routed on this highway. Design of this project started in 2003, with construction for the upgrading of the current highway up to the bypass still to be started with an estimated cost of $40.5 million.2
South Carolina, however, was never convinced the US 1 corridor would be the ultimate route for I-73. That state announced in 2004 that it was committed to building it's portion of I-73 and said it was waiting to start studying possible highway corridors west of I-95 until North Carolina made up its mind where the interstate would cross the border. SC Senator Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, warned a Horry County audience in the summer of 2004 that a speedy route choice for SC would forestall a NC congressional delegation bid to route I-73 through southeastern North Carolina rather than northeastern South Carolina.3 Though SC wanted NC to make up its mind, further routing it along US 1 would have placed the highway in some environmentally sensitive areas and added to its construction cost. SCDOT officials invited their counterparts from NCDOT to an I-73 Summit meeting on February 11, 2005 to discuss the issue after which a new official routing to the border was agreed to. Instead of using US 1, I-73 will cross the border near where NC 38 does, approximately 8 miles further east. NCDOT would help finance an SCDOT study of potential I-73 routings from US 74 to the border.4 This more easterly route reduced construction costs in both states and allowed SC to go ahead with its I-73 corridor planning activities.
On July 19, 2007 SCDOT officials unveiled their chosen alternative from among 6 potential corridors that were first unveiled in the fall of 2006 for I-73 to travel from US 74 (Future I-74) to I-95 near Latta, SC. These included two potential paths in North Carolina. Initially one ran from just west of where NC 38 hits the SC border running about 2 miles north paralleling SR 1825 (Airport Road) to the US 74 Bypass approximately 1 mile east of the NC 177 exit (this was later modified to meet Future I-74 near the NC 38 interchange). The other alternative corridor was slightly longer, indicated as 3 miles long by an SCDOT official at a public meeting, but 5 miles in the STIP, as it has I-73 crossing the border two miles east of NC 38 heading northeast, then turning to paralleling the border for about 1/2 mile then turning back north meeting US 74 just to the west of the current site of the NC 38 interchange. This routing ended up being the preferred alternative chosen (to view a map of the preferred and alternative corridors go to The SC I-73 Website). Hearings at Bennetsville, SC and in Hamlet, NC in August 2006 allowed the public to comment on the preferred alternatives, while no one objected to the chosen North Carolina routing, many South Carolina residents preferred the western corridor closer to Bennettsville rather than the chosen central corridor for economic reasons.5 On August 10, 2007 SCDOT got permission from the FHWA to build I-73 as a toll road that SCDOT would manage or through a public/private partnership where investors would pay for construction and operation and be paid back through toll revenue.6 On October 23, 2008 the FHWA and SCDOT held a ceremony in Columbia to sign the Record of Decision for the Northern route, allowing right-of-way purchasing to begin, then construction, if money is available.7
The NCDOT 2009-2015 STIP listed the project to build its portion of I-73 from US 74 to the border as Number I-4923, the entry listed for 'planning and environmental study only at the present time', thus not a priority for construction.8 While no official construction timetable was set for construction of this part of I-73, a 2005 article suggested construction could start as soon as 2009 with an estimated completion date of 2012, however, that time has now passed without construction starting.9 Later NCDOT STIP documents released in September 2012 and then in June 2015 did not include a mention of the project, meaning it is not funded now until at least 2027. The reason for this later 'reprioritization' was that the project did not meet the changed criteria for funding according to NCDOT's new Strategic Mobility Formula adopted in 2014. This date could conceivably move up if SC decides to build I-73 north of I-95, however currently little momentum has been behind this project. It is unknown though when this will be and what affect SCDOT's plan to build I-73 as a toll road will have upon this timetable for construction, or whether NCDOT would seek permission to toll this portion of the interstate as well.