COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A decades-long proposal to build a four-lane, nonstop path to the heart of South Carolina's tourism industry has cleared a major hurdle, but funding remains questionable.

South Carolina Congressman Tom Rice announced Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit allowing construction of Interstate 73 to the Grand Strand.

Rice says "we still have a ways to go, but we're closer than ever."

The permit covers the entire 80-mile stretch to the North Carolina border. But proponents focus on the 42-mile southern section linking Interstate 95 to the Conway Bypass. Providing that long-sought interstate access is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

Supporters promise the funding won't come from state taxes.

The announcement comes 35 years after Congress required studying a new highway to Myrtle Beach.