The year 2021 will not go down as a productive one for North Carolina's newer and future interstates. No new highways were opened during the year, though some had been planned to, and many projects were slowed down due to the effects of COVID-19, higher costs due to inflation, or other problems. Yet some of the progress made during the year offers hope that 2022 will be a banner year for many of the state's newest interstate routes. I'll review the year by Interstate and then discuss what the next year could bring.
Year in Review
Work continued on constructing the I-73/I-74 Rockingham Bypass, though progress slowed during the year. At the beginning of December work was still less that 50% complete, at 42.4%. The official opening date was moved back from the fall of 2023 to April 2024. Work continued on the future interchange with US 74. Here's a photo by David Gallo of what the construction zone looked like just before Christmas on US 74 West:
Here's a view of bridge construction from Business 74 East, taken from Google Maps Street View in November:
There are no other I-73 related construction projects in the pipeline, except for existing bridge rehabilitation work in Richmond County, a project let in November.
A similar story for I-74, besides work on the Rockingham Bypass with I-73, work proceeded on the construction of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway, though behind schedule. Construction of the Beltway between US 311 and NC 66/University Parkway was 84.1% complete as of November 22. Work is now scheduled to be completed by September 2022, a year later than originally planned. Much of the roadway has been paved though and some overhead sign supports have even been put up, such as can be seen between NC 66 and NC 8, photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter:
The good news is that since the completion of the other Beltway project, to construct the interchange with US 52, is now planned for October 2022, there will only a few weeks that traffic will need an alternate route to get between the Beltway and US 52. That project was 68% complete at the end of November. That work included building new bridges to take US 52 traffic away from the interchange location and over railroad tracks, here is the US 52 South bridge near completion, as seen in Street View, from September, the bridge opened to traffic in November:
The other I-74 related construction project is the building of an interchange at the current intersection of US 74 and Old Boardman Road in Columbus County. Work started in July and as of December 7 the project was 1/4 (25.2%) complete. Work is currently scheduled to be finished in early 2025. The exit number will be 225, as seen in this NCDOT sign plan:
Other happenings taking place along the I-74 corridor in 2021 included the near completion of the interchange upgrade at the NC 68 (soon(?) also to be US 70) interchange in High Point. All traffic lanes were opened prior to the Christmas holiday, as seen by NCDOT's traffic camera:
In the spring NCDOT finally got around to removing US 311 shields from I-74 signage in Guilford County, though the decommissioned route is still signed in Randolph County, image from Street View:
On December 15 NCDOT let the contract to build the next segment of the Winston-Salem Beltway from US 421 to I-40. Work should start in late January. Sign plans released as part of the letting confirmed that current I-74 west of the Beltway will be renumbered as NC 192 when work on the Eastern Section is completed around 2025:
Interestingly, most of the progress made on future interstates in North Carolina was for I-42, however, as of now, there are no signs signifying it. The major completion was the upgrade of 26 miles of US 70 between Kinston and New Bern to interstate standards. Work was completed ahead of schedule in the spring. Here's a photo of one of the Future I-42 signs along the widened shoulders of US 70, courtesy of Adam Prince:
Work also continued on the Havelock Bypass, work was over 1/3 complete at 36% at the end of November. The Bypass is still scheduled to be opened in May 2024. Work also proceeded in upgrading US 70 in the James City area from the Neuse River Bridge to Thurman Road. That project was 18.8% complete on November 22 with completion planned for December 2023. So the good news is that by the middle of 2024 you could have an interstate quality highway from just east of Kinston almost to Morehead City. The bad news is until it can connect to another section of interstate, when work is complete on a bypass of Kinston, you will not be seeing any interstate shields along the route. Work in Kinston is currently not scheduled to start until after 2029.
Work also started in January on a section further east in Johnston County that is upgrading 5 miles of US 70 from the Business 70 intersection to the Neuse River bridge. Work there was almost 20% complete as of December 15. Work on that project is not scheduled to be completed until 2025. Still there is hope for seeing I-42 shields before then, more later.
Unfortunately, nothing much happened with I-87 in 2021. Many projects due to be started this year or next were pushed back due to NCDOT budget shortfalls announced in late 2020. Like in 2020, NCDOT in March 2021 applied for Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant moneys that would have funded interstate upgrade work along US 64 and US 17 and the installation of fiber optic cable along the corridor, but their application was turned down. A major project holding back efforts to sign more of I-87 and I-587 is the widening and upgrade of US 64/264 between Wendell and Zebulon. This contract was pushed back from 2025 to beyond 2029 in late 2020, and a year later still remains outside of the scope of the current State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP).
More positive news to report about the child route than its parent. NCDOT completed work to upgrade US 264 to Interstate standards in Greene and Pitt County in March. Here's a photo after the work was complete, courtesy of Adam Prince:
Shortly thereafter they applied to the FHWA and AASHTO to have 37 miles of US 264 from I-95 (in Wilson County, where US 264 was already Interstate standard) to the NC 11 Bypass in Greenville designated as I-587. The necessary approvals came in over the summer. NCDOT then announced they were planning to sign it in 2022. Part of the holdup in putting up I-587 shields was due to another application made to AASHTO, to see if they would let a portion of US 264 be rerouted along its old route, current US 264 Alternate. No word as of now whether an approval is forthcoming. Regardless, exits will be renumbered at the same time the new interstate signs go up.
Work proceeded, but at a much slower pace, along the segment of the Fayetteville Outer Loop being built between I-95 near St. Paul's to Camden Road. At the end of October work was listed as 76% complete with a completion date of June of 2023. However, at of the end of November, the information was drastically changed. Work was now listed as only 44.4% complete and the completion date had been moved to the end of 2024. There have been no reports by NCDOT or in the press for the reason for the sudden increase in cost and delay of the project. While waiting for any news, here's a view from I-95 North of the new I-295 interchange bridge nearing completion in November:
The other important work that was to take place in 2021, updating the signs along the Loop from NC 295 to I-295, has still not occurred. Here's an image of a still standing NC 295 reassurance marker taken by Street View in October:
In a press release over the summer, NCDOT stated the contractor had until February 2022 to complete the work, looks like they're taking all the time allowed. There was also good news at the end of the year. The letting of the project to build the final section of I-295 was accelerated from the fall to the summer of 2022, more below.
A familiar story with Greensboro's interstate. Work continues but at a slower than optimal rate. Work on the last section, which many thought could open by the end of 2022, is 78.4% complete as of December 15. Work is now scheduled to be completed in June 2023. Here's a couple images from Street View taken in July showing construction progress. The first at North Elm Street at the current end of I-840 East:
The other from Yanceyville Street looking east:
Since I-840 was brought up Nothing new to report on the I-785 front. The section signed along the eastern half of the Greensboro Urban Loop is awaiting the completion of I-840 so it can be joined by I-840 shields, making it (probably) the third instance of a pairing of 3di routes, the second for North Carolina. Upgrades north of Greensboro to US 29 to allow for the signing of I-795 to the Virginia border are still not planned until at least 2029. A Street View post of the current end of I-785:
Finally, on the most frustrating note, I-885 and the East End Connector project in Durham. Work has been completed on the roadway since 2020. The route is not being opened because of the need to remove the temporary railroad bridge put up over US 70 (Future I-885) during construction. Here's a photo of the problem bridge from November thanks to Adam Prince:
According to press reports in November, the bridge was to be demolished over 6 weeks starting in December. Work to repave US 70 and add lane striping would then have to wait until spring after which the Connector would open. However, as of last week no work on the bridge has begun. Spring 2022 may now be optimistic for opening. Given that all the signs have been put up along the completed Connector, RoadwayWiz used a drone to capture what could not be seen as yet from a car in June:
Some may have spotted a problem that might require the signs to be changed, causing more delays. The signs were apparently designed before the decision to truncate NC 147 at the East End Connector. Therefore there should be no NC 147 shield on the left sign. Hopefully an overlay is all that is needed. The toll portion of NC 147 will become Toll NC 885. A decision affirmed by a new contract being let to install fiber optic cable along the Triangle Expressway toll roads which referred to both NC 540 and NC 885.
What to Look Forward to in 2022
The upcoming year is promising. If all goes according to schedule we should have:
1. The signing of I-42 along the Goldsboro Bypass.
2. The signing of I-587 along US 264 from I-95 to Greenville.
3. The opening of Durham's East End Connector and the official signing of I-885 in the spring or summer.
4. The start of construction of the I-74 Beltway between Business 421/Salem Parkway and I-40 in January.
5. The start of construction of new future I-74 US 74/76 interchange at Chauncey Town Road in Columbus County in July.
6. Start of construction on final segment of I-295/Fayetteville Outer Loop in July.
7. Pavement rehab along US 64 (Future I-87) in Edgecombe and Nash Counties also in July.
8. Start of work on Future I-42, US 70 upgrades between Thurman Road and Havelock Bypass with a Design-Build contract to be let in August.
9. The letting of the final section of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway Eastern Section from I-40 to I-74 (former US 311 freeway) in October and start of construction in November.
2022 also marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of I-73 and I-74 in North Carolina and, not coincidentally, the 20th anniversary of my I-73/I-74 website. To commemorate this, I am hoping to plan a road trip during the year to update documentation of those two interstates as well as other NC Future Interstates. I am waiting until I-885 is signed and, hopefully, to coordinate the trip with a Carolina based road meet. I will post any updated information on AARoads Forum and Facebook pages.
I gratefully acknowledge the help of all those who forwarded information or photos over the past year, especially J. Austin Carter, David Gallo, David Johnson, Val Melvin, RoadwayWiz (Dan Murphy), and Adam Prince.