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Interstate 73/74 (Corridor 5)

Corridor 5 is defined by ISTEA, the National Highway System Designation Act, and TEA-21 as the proposed Interstate 73 corridor and the extension of already existing Interstate 74 between Cincinnati, Ohio, and South Carolina. Although these roads are touted as Interstates, some pundits have suggested that "Interstate" in this case is more a tag than a design criteria and that some portions of the road will be four lanes, separated, but not limited access. Time will tell what design criteria will be used for this corridor; it may well be a patchwork of different criteria. Tangentially, Corridor 5 also may incorporate a proposed extension of Interstate 20 from Florence, South Carolina, east to Wilmington, North Carolina.

In 1996, AASHTO accepted Interstate 73/74 into the Interstate Highway System within the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. This is why both "future" and regular Interstate 73 and 74 shields have been appearing throughout that region over the past four years, even though the segments are not continuous.

INTERSTATE 73

Michigan

Routing

According to NHS/ISTEA/TEA-21 legislation, Interstate 73 will begin in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and will head south to serve Adrian, Jackson, Lansing, Mount Pleasant, and Grayling. In spite of the national highway bill, no studies are underway for this corridor. The former Michigan Department of Transportation official webpage was taken offline in 2002, and the Interstate 73 project in Michigan is considered dormant at this time.

As proposed, the northern terminus in Sault Ste. Marie implies that Interstate 73 will run tandem with Interstate 75 from Sault Ste. Marie south to the Interstate 75 and U.S. 127 (Former U.S. 27 - signage was converted in Summer 2002) split near Grayling. Interstate 73 will follow U.S. 127 south to Lansing, U.S. 127 south to Jackson, and U.S. 223 southeast through Adrian to Toledo, Ohio. MDOT is also studying the possibility of routing Interstate 73 south on U.S. 127 to the Ohio Turnpike rather than using U.S. 223. Of these highways, only U.S. 223 is not a multi-lane, divided highway. If constructed on the U.S. 127 and U.S. 223 alignment, a new Interstate 73 will probably spell the decommissioning of most of U.S. 127 and all of U.S. 223 in Michigan. Already, U.S. 27 was deleted from Michigan's highway system in Summer 2002, when it was replaced with U.S. 127.

Status

Interstate 73 is part of a long-standing plan (from the 1960s) to construct an Interstate Highway facility along the U.S. 27-127 corridors through Central Michigan. Once the ISTEA/NHS/TEA-21 legislation was passed and funds allocated toward an 18-month feasibility study, Michigan DOT planned its section of Interstate 73 between December 1999 and May 2001.

The resulting study indicated the route Interstate 73 would take through Michigan, by confirming it would follow U.S. 127 (Former U.S. 27) from Interstate 75 (Grayling) south to Lansing and U.S. 127 from Lansing south to Jackson. From Jackson to Toledo, several potential corridors were introduced through southeastern Michigan, including U.S. 127 south to the Ohio Turnpike and U.S. 223 through Adrian. The options were very controversial in this region of Michigan, as most of these routes are not currently freeway-standard.

In late May 2000, MDOT announced plans to drop the Corridor A3 alternative for Interstate 73 from consideration through the Whiteford, Bedford, and Erie townships of Monroe County. Corridor A3 would have followed a routing between former M-151 and Erie Road and directly connected U.S. 23 and Interstate 75. This segment was dropped due to strong local resistance.

In additional to local concerns, the freeway also suffers from a lack of funding, which prompted the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to announce on June 12, 2001, that it would not proceed with the environmental clearance phase of the Interstate 73 corridor study. Federal High Priority Project funding was identified for both the feasibility and environmental portion of the study, so the remaining funds ($2.9 million) were reallocated for safety improvements along U.S. 127 between M-50 and U.S. 12 and along U.S. 223 in Lenawee County.

As of December 2001, the Interstate 73 freeway is on hold pending fund identification. In addition, the State of Ohio has also stopped its feasbility study for Interstate 73, leaving the freeway in doubt in these two states for the immediate term. Longer-term, Interstate 73 is a possibility, but it is certainly not definite.

U.S. 27 or U.S. 127?

While the 2000 National Geographic Road Atlas prematurely showed U.S. 27 north of Lansing as U.S. 127, U.S. 27 will be deleted as of Summer 2002. A press release was issued on January 14, 2002, indicating the removal of U.S. 27 in Michigan. However, many reports and press releases related to the U.S. 27 freeway project north of Lansing appears in MDOT webpages and publications as U.S. 27, but several of the more recent ones also refer to U.S. 127. However, planning for the removal of U.S. 27 began a year prior. In Summer 2001, U.S. 27 reassurance shields along its merged section with Interstate 69 were being removed.

With the changing of U.S. 27 into U.S. 127, it seems likely that a second change to Interstate 73 would confuse motorists. However, that conversion date is likely to be very far in the future. With the Summer 2002 change, U.S. 27 is now considered decommissioned north of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Appropriations

The TEA-21 appropriations bill provides money to complete the U.S. 27 bypass around St. Johns (actually the part that needs to be finished is between Interstate 69 and Price Road Business U.S. 127 (Former U.S. 27), about 8 1/2 miles of road) at a cost of $30 million before 2000. As of May 30, 1998, all the overpasses and the bridge over the Looking Glass River have been finished. MDOT has also started the process of creating the merge at the Interstate 69/U.S. 127 intersection (the ramps are all laid out) by widening the South U.S. 127 portion of the road.

MI023 # 662 in the TEA-21 funding for Fiscal Year 1999 is $590,625 to "improve the Interstate 73 corridor in Jackson and Lenawee Counties" to Toledo. Although this is not referenced in the Michigan Department of Transportation web site, this is more evidence for the reality of Interstate 73 in Michigan. Nevertheless, as interest waned in this study, the funds were reallocated to other improvements along U.S. 127.

U.S. 127 Freeway between Lansing and Alma

The M-57/U.S. 127 intersection is the last bottleneck on U.S. 127 (Former U.S. 27). Plans are to make this intersection into a full interchange, and local politicians have accelerated plans to develop U.S. 127 into a freeway between St. Johns and Ithaca. This segment is between the Maple River floodlands and Ithaca, including the interchanges at M-57 and Buchanan Road.

These politicians, led by Michigan Representative Larry DeVuyst, hope for completion of the U.S. 127 freeway will occur before the scheduled completion date of 2003. They are concerned that the freeway will not be constructed in time to eliminate key bottlenecks, especially at the M-57 intersection. This project will make travel much smoother along U.S. 127, and ultimately this highway will become part of Interstate 73 in Michigan.

Nicholas Rothfuss drives on this stretch of U.S. 127 regularly and considers it to be somewhat dangerous. "People drive like they are still on a limited access highway. The road always seems to be quite congested, much more so than the limited access stretches (albeit not quite as bad as the five-lane section arround DeWitt with tons of commercial development that will be bypassed in November 1999). Traffic usually flows at rougly 70 mph (speed limit is 55 mph) and this is with rather strict traffic enforcement as Michigan goes. Not to mention the road is in horrible shape (it does not need resurfacing, it needs reconstruction) and a very dangerous intersection at M-57. This highway needs to be upgraded, independent of whether or not Interstate 73 ever becomes reality. There is of course, however, a need to take into account the funding issue and the fact a lot of existing roads need to be fixed. But what bothers me is MDOT has concrete plans to build an uneeded and largely unwanted freeway along U.S. 23 in Northwest Michigan (some 100+ miles long), yet they stick this needed 18 mile upgrade way on the back burner."

Ohio

NHS/ISTEA/TEA-21 legislation does not precisely spell out where Interstate 73 should go through Ohio, except to say that it would follow U.S. 23 throughout. So plans are to route it from Toledo southeast to Columbus via Marion. Then it will turn south to Portsmouth for its first encounter with its partner in crime, Interstate 74. There, Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 would jointly head for West Virginia via U.S. 52.

Sandor Gulyas researched the route of Interstate 73 and 74 in Ohio, and found a map with the proposed alignments from the early 1990s. These maps are available on the Interstate 73/74 Ohio Page.

Interstate 73 will enter Ohio via the U.S. 23 and U.S. 223 freeway. Interstate 73 will probably loop around Toledo via Interstate 475 or via Interstate 280. Then it will head southeast via U.S. 23 toward Columbus via Marion and Ottawa. It seems unlikely that the Ohio 15 bypass near Findlay will be used as part of the mainline Interstate 73, but it might become a 3di spur. The Interstate 73 designation may bring federal funds, which would help pay for a badly needed widening to six lanes.

The proposed route in Delaware County would follow U.S. 23 south from Waldo, then skirt the northeast edge of Delaware to U.S. 36, following that route toward Interstate 71. The new freeway would swing south just east of Alum Creek Reservoir, intersecting Interstate 71 at a new interchange south of the U.S. 36 junction. Two committees from Delaware County voted for that route of Interstate 73 over several other proposals after a lengthy series of community meetings which drew thousands of attendees.

In Columbus, Interstate 73 may follow Interstate 71 and Ohio 315, but these plans are not yet clear. In the south part of Columbus, Interstate 73 will probably have to be built rather than designated over an existing piece of road. Then Interstate 73 will pick up U.S. 23 again and follow it south to Portsmouth. Interstate 73 will bypass Portsmouth via the long-proposed Portsmouth bypass.

It is unlikely that the Portsmouth Bypass, at $158.4 million, will begin happen any time soon. To prioritze new highway projects, Ohio developed a new review process for proposed projects. The Portsmouth Bypass is now listed as Tier III, which means it pretty much didn't make the cut. Don't look for it to happen unless there's an influx of federal funds or a toll road.

Interstate 73 will meet Interstate 74 near Lucasville; the two roads will follow U.S. 52 southeast into West Virginia near Huntington.

Interstate 73 has been proposed to be completed in Ohio in one of three manners:

  1. Upgrade U.S. 23 to "Interstate status" throughout Ohio.
  2. Use only portions of the present U.S. 23 route and build bypasses around the cities that U.S. 23 goes through.
  3. Build a whole new freeway, designate it as part of the Ohio Turnpike, and make Interstate 73 a toll road.

Of these three options, the third option seems to be the most favored among Ohio politicians, as it may well be the most cost effective way to build Interstate 73. During the mid-1990s, the Ohio Dept. of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike Commission performed feasibility studies to determine which option is best and what the exact routing of Interstate 73 through Ohio would be.

According to Sandor Gulyas, the Ohio Turnpike Commision bowed out of this project sometime in 1996 during a public outcry about toll increases and "pet pork projects." Apparently there was a question as to how the Ohio Turnpike Commission has spent its money.

Nick DeCenzo indicates that there was no problem with the Ohio Turnpike Commission funding the feasibilty studies until they implimented an 82% toll increase to finance new interchanges, widening the Turnpike to six lanes from Toledo to Youngstown, and the complete demolition and reconstruction, of all 16 service plazas. In the uproar over the toll increase and how the Turnpike Commission was spending its money, the Commission bowed out.

Both Nick and Sandor tell me that there hasn't been much said about the Interstate 73 project for almost a year and a half in Ohio. The last statement about Interstate 73 by ODOT was that "funding for the highway was of almost no importance (compared to a downtown Columbus interchange and what a billionaire retailer/land developer needs) and any furor over this project soon faded away."

In northwestern Ohio, plans are to route Interstate 73 along U.S. 23 between Columbus and Toledo. One concerned citizen who lives along the proposed Interstate 73 route, Larry Kelbley, wonders whether Interstate 73 along U.S. 23 north of Carey is necessary.

Larry's concern about the new alignment of Interstate 73 is that it would destroy thousands of acres of prime farm land. He feels that existing roadways -- namely, Ohio Route 15 and Interstate 75 -- could be used as part of the Interstate 73 connection between Columbus and Toledo. According to Larry, the proposed Interstate 73 routing is against the wishes of several thousand residents in the area, but a few business groups are still lobbying for Interstate 73.

Here's more from Larry:

Recently, newly appointed State Senator Larry Mumper spent a morning listening to questions from Seneca County business and government leaders. About 100 people attended the session. The session was co-sponsored by the Fostoria Chamber of Commerce, the Fostoria Economic Development Corp., the Tiffin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Seneca County Industrial and Economic Development Corp. These are the same groups that lobbied heavily for the construction of 45 miles of the Interstate 73 new alignment through some of the most fertile farmland in this country.

Our previous senator, Karen Gilmore, was appointed to the State Employment Relations Board. Senator Gilmore was very pro-business. This gave these folks an opportunity to get to know the new senator and share their concerns. Senator Mumper has quite a diverse background. He was a teacher for 30 years, a farmer, a small businessman, a city councilman and a county commissioner. He is from Marion, Ohio but represents the Tiffin / Fostoria area also. Senator Mumper is concerned about people, about their safety, and about farmland preservation. He was quoted as saying at this session, "Farming is still our state's number one industry. We need to look at them as a great resource and have the long term vision to push construction into less fertile land and keep our farms intact."

I doubt if those statements made those folks' day!! This recent newspaper article is only a small piece of the puzzle, but it does provide a little more hope that the "development at all costs" mentality of previous decades is being changed by a few with true long term vision.

In 1993, the Columbus City Council debated the corridor for Interstate 73 and decided it didn't want another major Interstate in the city, so it authorized the then-underutilized east leg of Interstate 270 for Interstate 73. That was five years ago though, when the east side of Franklin County still had a lot of farms. According to Harrison Page, who resides in Columbus, the east-side villages are now becoming cities -- the state of Ohio says an incorporated area with less than 5,000 people is a village, anything more and it becomes a city. In addition, Columbus' local billionaire added an interchange on Interstate 270 to accommodate his Easton mega-development, which includes upscale housing, apartments, a regional mall and other shopping, offices, warehouses and distribution facilities, etc. There are also two new freeways have opened that connect with the eastern leg of Interstate 270: Ohio 161 (New Albany Bypass) and Interstate 670/U.S. 62 (the Airport Connector). Further development will happen that clogs Interstate 270E before ODOT finally gets serious about Interstate 73. It is quite possible that Interstate 73 will probably end up being some kind of bypass around Franklin County. But don't look for Interstate 73 to be running through Columbus.

Back in 1992, when ODOT was planning for Interstate 73 north of Columbus, a plan was floated out about using Ohio 315 up the Olentangy River to Delaware. Now the Olentangy River is a National Scenic River (as of this Spring 1998) and I can't imagine anyone being allow to build a freeway along it. Even ten years ago, Delaware County engineers wanted to clear some trees to improve the sight lines of a nasty turn on Ohio 315 (which parallels the Olentangy river) after a rash of traffic accidents, and local preservationists made a stink and stopped it. ODOT put up improved signage and very little has happened there since. So it's unlikely that Interstate 73 will find a home along Ohio 315.

Sandor Gulyas indicates that the future for Interstate 73 in the immediate term is dim, even though the portion of the corridor closest to Columbus has serious traffic concerns. The Delaware Gazette in late March 1998 stated, "Interstate 73 remains all but a dead issue in Ohio, with no ODOT funding for construction in sight. An extensive study funded by the Ohio Turnpike Commission in 1995 and 1996 produced a proposed route through Delaware County, but Turnpike Commission has withdrawn from the project. ODOT officials have said there are numerous other highway projects ahead of Interstate 73 on its funding priority list."

Over a year later, on Thursday, May 27, 1999, the same newspaper reported that Ray Lorello, the ODOT District Six planning and programming manager, proclaimed that the latest status of Interstate 73, at least in reference to the proposed linking of U.S. 23 with Interstate 71 across central Delaware County, is "dead. I don't know how else to say it ... Those are political realities ... Basically, people said they didn't want it."

At the same time, Sandor Gulyas reports that on the same day that Mr. Lorello declared Interstate 73 "dead" in Delaware County, Ohio, it was announced that ODOT is spending $550,000 for consultants to spend a year studying ways to prevent gridlock halt on U.S. 23. Gary Krueger of the retained consultant firm stated, "Half the crashes in areas such as these are a result of driveways and intersections." Krueger said part of the plan is to space future driveway and street connections for optimum traffic flow. ODOT Traffic Engineer Tom Lyden said the agency would like traffic signals to be at least one mile apart. If they are spaced closer than one mile, then they should have coordinated controls ensuring strings of green lights for through traffic. It is clear that there are serious traffic concerns along the Interstate 73 corridor.

To further make one wonder why Interstate 73 was proclaimed dead, Mr. Lorello (the ODOT district manager) cited figures from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission predicting the area's highways will see four times as much travel in 2020 as in 1990. Mr. Lorello also said the chances of widening Ohio SR-315, a north-south link with Franklin County adjacent to the scenic Olentangy River, are "slim to none," and the railroad tracks that lie east of U.S. 23 limit new road opportunities there. The project also will include an examination of the proposed new U.S. 23-42 interchange in Delaware. That proposal, to replace the existing limited-turn, limited-access interchange with two signalized intersections allowing all turns, was criticized by retired local trucker Don Sherman, who feels that everything should be designed as a cloverleaf, since stop lights create traffic jams. Traffic engineers may take issue with this presumption. In spite of all of these issues, it is still very unlikely that Interstate 73 will be resurrected anytime soon.

Scott Dennis writes, "Ohio also has a good DOT website, and you can get their four-year spending plans by doing a search on "STIP". Ohio has no reference to any new Interstates in their plans, but do plan to build the Portsmouth bypass, which could become part of Interstate 73, and the new Toledo bridge. Ohio has adopted a fairly rigid scoring system for picking new construction projects, which probably means that Interstate 73 will require a LOT of political will (since U.S. 23 is already four-lane through the whole state and thus doesn't score well for upgrading)." There is no money appropriated or planned for Interstate 73/74 anywhere in the four-year plan as of 1999.

Billy Riddle found a story in early June, 1998, in the WSAZ News Channel 3 (Huntington, WV) section of MSNBC.com related to Interstate 73/74 in Ohio. Apparently residents of Ironton, Ohio, want to form a group to get ODOT to reconsider their decision not to build the proposed Interstate 73/74. Interesting ... sounds like reverse NIMBY-ism.

Researching Interstates 73/74 at the Columbus (Main) Public Library, Sandor Gulyas found the Ohio Turnpike Commission study for I-73 in Ohio. He writes, "If the go ahead was given today [8/24/00], it would take 10 years for all of I-73/74 to be constructed in Ohio (getting the right-of-way would be another story). The preferred routing for I-73 would of been from I-280 (the drawbridge would be replaced) south along Ohio 420 then roughly following U.S. 23 (I-73 would generally stay to the east of U.S. 23 and the towns of Fostoria and Carey) and connecting with Ohio 15 southeast of Carey. Then it would use current U.S. 23 to north of Delaware, then split off east to I-71 then be routed on I-270 to U.S. 23 on the southside of Columbus. Then I-73 would again generally follow U.S. 23 to north of Portsmouth where a new highway would be built going southeast to connect with U.S. 52. Ohio 32 would be upgraded to be I-74 (no clue what would be done in Hamilton County). What is Ohio 15 would be upgraded to freeway standards as well, starting as a Temp I-73 then becoming a 3di, probably I-273 (it connects two I routes, so Ohio would still not have a Interstate spur)." Much more on the Ohio Turnpike Study is available at the Sandor Gulyas's Interstate 73/74 Ohio page.

But for now, Interstate 73 is all but a dead issue in Ohio. Of course, federal funding from TEA-21 may change this. If not, it may be awhile before we see Interstate 73 shields being erected anywhere in Ohio.

West Virginia

NHS/ISTEA legislation has Interstate 73 entering the state cosigned with Interstate 74. It would follow U.S. 52 from Portsmouth, Ohio, southeast to Bluefield, West Virginia. At this point, Interstate 73 will turn east via U.S. 460 toward the Virginia state line, while Interstate 74 will depart southeast to meet Interstate 77 near Wytheville, Virginia.

All of U.S. 52 will become Interstate grade ultimately, and the entire route will be cosigned Interstate 73/74 from Huntington to Beckley and Bluefield. The two routes will split at Bluefield; Interstate 73 will head west to Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Roanoke, Virginia. Interim construction efforts underway now will bring U.S. 52 to West Virginia Corridor Standards, which means four-lane divided without interchanges. Future improvements will bring U.S. 52 to full Interstate standards, but most of these are not yet programmed or funded.

The Interstate 73/74 route through West Virginia is split into three segments: Huntington area, Huntington to Williamson (Tolisa Highway), and Williamson to Bluefield (King Coal Expressway). Interstate 73/74 will ultimately follow U.S. 52 in this area. The upgrades that have been approved by the FHWA on U.S. 52 were designed and presented for approval in 1991. It was not until TEA-21 that it was finally approved. With this understanding, West Virginia DOT (WVDOT) did not plan for the Interstate 73/74 designation, and the design was for an at-grade expressway. Recently, the Charleston Gazette stated that if Interstate 73/74 does become a reality in neighboring states, that upgrades will need to be made, but will not be a reality in West Virginia for at least 15 years.

Interstate 73/74 at Huntington

Interstate 73/74 will most likely enter West Virginia due south from Ohio on a pre-existing two-lane bridge that currently carries U.S. 52 into the state (according to Michael Muiznieks and Sherman Cahal). There are a couple of interchanges in a span of 1.2 miles on this interstate-grade four-lane before the trumpet interchange with Interstate 64. Therefore, it is likely that the speed limit here will be quite low by Interstate standards (something like 45-50 mph). Additionally, a second span would have to be constructed, as the existing bridge would probably be too narrow. The new interstates would then be multiplexed with Interstate 64 west for about five miles.

The current U.S. 52 South interchange (Exit 1 on Interstate 64) will be where Interstate 73/74 turns south, as evidenced by the High Priority Corridor sign erected by WVDOT on U.S. 52 South. Currently, the U.S. 52 South/Interstate 64 exit is a diamond-type interchange. WVDOT will have to upgrade this interchange to a trumpet or a cloverleaf, since this interchange also serves the city of Kenova, which sits just north of Interstate 64, with interstate access. Trouble is, Interstate 64 and the U.S. 52 South interchange are carved out of the hillside that forms the Ohio Valley in this area. There will have to be massive amounts of earth moved if WVDOT wants to put a cloverleaf here. What seems more probable is to put a trumpet interchange here and create a "new" Kenova interchange a few miles east of here on Interstate 64.

Once on U.S. 52 South, the at-grade intersection for the road that leads to the Tri-State Airport is only 0.2 miles from the Interstate 64 interchange, which will be difficult to incorporate into future interchange design. Considering the existing complexities of this junction of Interstate 64 and Interstate 73/74, this access road to the airport will most likely be closed. Access to the airport will probably be made via the West Virginia 75 interchange with Interstate 73/74 and Broad Hollow Road.

To this end, a new, one-and-one-half mile expressway was completed in 2001. The expressway runs from the airport intersection to just south of its junction with West Virginia 75. There is a diamond interchange at West Virginia 75, and there is a stub-end, which allows for northerly extension of Interstate 73/74. Nevertheless, this improvement is not shown in the 2003 Rand McNally Road Atlas. As of May 2003, grading has been completed for a possible extension northward.

H.B. Elkins reports (as of December 3, 1998) that upgrading the section near the Airport to Interstate standards will be difficult, but not impossible. "The existing road makes a slight turn to the left at the top of a hill just past the entrance to the Tri-State Airport, where it narrows from four lanes to two. The grade work is well below the existing roadway, so a lot of filling is going to have to be done. It appears that the new roadway will be going almost due west or at least southwest, so a large sweeping left turn is going to be needed to have the highway continue south. They may be planning to use part of the existing road and do a trumpet interchange to tie in what will be West Virginia State Route 75 into U.S. 52 when it is upgraded to Interstate status."

After the current access road for the airport, U.S. 52 heads southwest up a slight grade. At the top of the grade, the road becomes a two-lane highway and curves to the south-southeast. It then switches back to the right to make a westward jaunt to intersect with West Virginia State Route 75. Shortly after this intersection, U.S. 52 comes to a "T" intersection at the banks of the Big Sandy River, where the highway turns southward here to parallel the railroad tracks and the river on its way to Prichard and points south.

Right at the point where the current four-lane "airport" section of US 52 becomes a two-lane highway is where the new interstates will go straight and avoid the south-southeast curve at the top of the grade. The interstates will make gentle curve to the left to obtain a true south alignment and will cross the current two-lane U.S. 52 between the West Virginia State Route 75 intersection and U.S. 52's current westward leg to the "T" intersection at the banks of the Big Sandy. Motorists traveling on this section of U.S. 52 must occasionally stop for a Terex Titan earth mover crossing the highway between West Virginia State Route 75 and the "T" intersection.

Judging by the width and rough grading of this construction zone, it appears that this will be the place where a diamond interchange will be built to connect what will become West Virginia State Route 75 (the current two-lane U.S. 52) with the new interstates passing overhead. Currently, U.S. 52 south of the "T" intersection runs alongside the railroad tracks and the river in the Big Sandy Valley. The newly built Interstate 73/74 will run along the top of the ridge above the valley.

U.S. 52: Tolsia Highway

For the current status of U.S. 52 between Huntington and Williamson in West Virginia, H.B. Elkins reports that there are two recently upgraded sections of Interstate 73/74 near Williamson and Prichard (completed in the late 1990s). These segments were not built to Interstate standards, however. There is one exit along the Prichard bypass segment, but the remaining bypass is not Interstate standard. According to Scott L. Grogg, these sections of Interstate 73/74 were built to non-limited access highway due to the federal funding appropriations given in 1991 and 1995. This portion of highway was designed and planned before Interstate 73 was on the drawing boards yet. The section from Nolan to Williamson was set up as a feeder on/off of U.S. 119 (Corridor G). The state of West Virginia does know that as time goes on, the Interstate 73/74 status will mean additional upgrades.

The new Prichard section is shown as divided highway on the 1999 Rand McNally Road Atlas, with the old highway connecting to the town. Michael Muiznieks writes that the Prichard upgrade of U.S. 52 is ten miles south of the "airport" section (see "I-73/74 at Huntington" section above). This is 2.5 miles of interstate-grade expressway with wide shoulders and a wide, grassy median strip. Near the northern end of this expressway is the completely unmarked Prichard diamond interchange. Mike writes, "There are no reflectors alongside the highway, no "Exit" signs at the gores of the exit, no "Merge" signs by the on-ramps and no "Yield" signs at the end of the acceleration lanes. The only indication of any exit here is a tiny black-on-orange construction type sign that says "Prichard" right before the deceleration lanes. It would be quite easy for a motorist to totally miss this interchange ... even in broad daylight!"

Progress has been made on connecting the Prichard Bypass with the Airport Bypass. In 2002, the divided highway was extended one and one-half miles north of the section of the Prichard Bypass. This section has one at-grade intersection, but there is sufficient room to add an interchange if needed. According to Sherman Cahal, a one-and-one-half mile bypass of Cyrus is being planned and will be let to construction in either late 2003 or early 2004. It will include an interchange at County Route 19.

The feeder route from Nolan to Williamson via U.S. 119 and U.S. 52 was completed in early 1998. It dips into Kentucky not once, but twice, for sections of 0.8 and 0.2 miles, by crossing the Tug Fork River. At each section, there is a connector road for KY 292, but except for small signs stating "Mingo County, West Virginia," and "Pike County, Kentucky," there are no indicators for the state line. Everything in the short Kentucky portions of the road is done to West Virginia standards, including the approach signs on KY 292 guiding you to U.S. 52-119. The only "Kentucky" aspect of the two stretches of road is the 55 mph speed limit. Unlike most Kentucky highways, there are no Kentucky mile markers at the state/county lines along the two segments of U.S. 52-119. The road is named the Robert C. Byrd Freeway, with all of the signs designating this highway located in West Virginia.

The speed limit for the upgraded, non-limited access sections of U.S. 52 is 65 mph. Four U.S. 52 bridges were built across the Tug Fork rather than blast the hillside on the West Virginia side of the river.

The portion of U.S. 52 that will become Interstate 73/74 at Prichard is not signed with "Future" or regular Interstate shields or signs. The new four-lane section of U.S. 52 near Prichard is located between Huntington and Fort Gay. H.B. Elkins reported that construction on this 2.5 mile section of highway is essentially complete, although it looks like some signage is yet to be constructed. It's limited access, and there is one exit along the route which gives access to Prichard. There are no signs on the route indicating it as future Interstate 73/74. There was a "Your Tax Dollars at Work" sign at the southern end, with a U.S. 52 shield on it.

King Coal Expressway

In August 1998, the West Virginia DOT indentified its preferred corridor for proposed four-lane construction of the King Coal Highway from the Williamson area in Mingo County southeast to the Bluefield area in Mercer County. This highway is designated as the southern part of West Virginia's segment of the Interstate 73/Interstate 74 corridor, and it will have an interchange with the proposed Coalfields Expressway near Welch in McDowell County.

The selected corridor, called Corridor Alternative 2D, begins on the Kentucky border on the alignment of U.S. 119, the Robert C. Byrd Freeway, turning northward on the western side of Williamson to the southern edge of Delbarton. Here it follows U.S. 52 or parallels it to the south to the area of Sharon Heights, where it parallels Mingo County 13 to the south. At the Mingo County line, the 95-mile corridor straddles Indian Ridge along the McDowell-Wyoming County line to Crumpler, where it turns north of the county line before entering Mercer County south of Matoaka. Remaining approximately equidistant from WV 10 to the north and U.S. 52 to the south, it turns southward on four-lane U.S. 460 near Stony Gap to join U.S. 52 just north of Bluefield, following it north to Interstate 77.

More on the "King Coal Highway" from Scott L. Grogg, in an email dated Monday, September 14, 1998:

The King Coal Highway, which also known as U.S. 52, runs from Huntington to Bluefield and has been designated as such since the mid-1950s. Over the past ten years, WVDOT and the legislature has been working with local activists to upgrade the highway to four lanes. (Due to high accident rates with coal trucks, heavy amounts of slow moving traffic, and economic development.)

After several years of trying to get the Appalachian Regional Commission to accept U.S. 52 into their plans, to no avail, the state decided to upgrade the highway as "pork funds" became available through Senator Byrd. That's how the money came in for the Prichard section.

When economics became depressed in the early-1990s for southern WV, county and local officials lobbied the legislature for immediate movement on upgrades. This eventually gave birth to the Interstate 73/74 plans. Based on preliminary plans for Interstate 73/74, very little of the recently upgraded four-lane U.S. 52-119 between Nolan and Williamson will be part of Interstate 73/Interstate 74. It is more likely that the Interstate will move away from U.S. 52-119 to the southeast at a point north of Williamson.

The state does in fact have plans of moving forward with the King Coal Highway next year and some funds have been appropriated. Contracts agreements will be going out late this year or early next (according to the Charleston Gazette). However, the current design does not meet Interstate standards. The highway will be built like most ARC highways in WV, such as U.S. 119 (Corridor G) or U.S. 19.

Legislators have reappropriated money from this highway to complete a couple of other projects. The first of these projects is the U.S. 35 highway from Hurricane to Pt. Pleasant. The recent growth of the Teays Valley and the new Toyota plant in Buffalo has pushed them to develop this project immediately. The second project is completion of WV 9 in the eastern panhandle. Growth of computer, software, government, and so on has mandated work to be done to keep up with the demands.

So right now, U.S. 52 in not dead, nor is it on a high priority list right now. We will see what happens over the next six months as the WVDOT appropriates money from the recent sale of 220 million dollars in bonds.

According to WVDOT, following approval of a draft EIS and additional public meetings, a record of decision is expected by next year. Preliminary engineering on King Coal began in 1999, and a press release in April 2000 revealed plans for interchanges along King Coal:

Members of the King Coal Highway Authority have learned that construction on the Bluefield interchange will begin sometime this summer. However, Division of Highways representative James M. Colby warned authority members last week that the project to link Huntington and Bluefield via Williamson will take 10 to 20 years to complete. "We're looking at 94 miles (between Williamson and Mercer County) at a cost of between $15 million and $18 million per mile," Colby said.

Some segments of the four-lane road already have been completed and other work is progressing in various areas of the five counties where it will be located. "We hope to start the Bluefield Interchange late this summer and the one in Welch before the end of the year," Colby added. The John Nash Boulevard Interchange in Mercer County will be for U.S. Route 52 and U.S. Route 460. It will carry traffic through West Virginia on the connector for proposed Interstate 73-74 between Virginia and Ohio. Colby said the improvements to U.S. Route 52 are being designed like corridor projects with partially controlled accesses.

After this declaration, West Virginia Governor Cecil H. Underwood, along with local authorities and King Coal Highway Authority members, unveiled a sign along the proposed Interstate 73/74 Corridor at the intersection of U.S. 52 and U.S. 460 in June 2000. "This is one more step toward building the King Coal Highway," said Highways Commissioner Sam Beverage. "People want a safe route where there is opportunity for economic development. These are the main reasons for building this highway." This ceremony is the second for West Virginia's portion of the National Highway System Corridor. The first of the signs was placed in Wayne County along U.S. 52 on May 19, 2000. A third sign is located along Mercer County's eastern border with Virginia and was placed on the same day as the Bluefield sign.

More on the highway may be found at the Kind Coal Highway web page.

The signage effort, along with references to the Interstates in recent press releases and web page information, indicates to me that Interstate 73/74, while not part of the current efforts to bring U.S. 52 to Corridor Standards, is still a probability within the next 15-20 years, depending upon funding.

Virginia

According to the 1991 ISTEA legislation, Interstate 73 was to follow the currently proposed route of Interstate 74 through Virginia and the Carolinas. However, that changed when politicos from Virginia decided that Interstate 73 should enter Roanoke -- this way, U.S. 220 from Roanoke to Greensboro could be upgraded to Interstate status. So the NHS legislation of 1995 changed the routing of Interstate 73 in Virginia. Via U.S. 460 at the West Virginia state line, Interstate 73 will head east to Blacksburg.

According to Scott Kozel, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Six Year Program book from 1994 indicates that Interstate 73 will follow the U.S. 460 corridor from the West Virginia border, past Blacksburg, following the planned "Smart Road" from Blacksburg to Interstate 81. The Smart Road segment of Interstate 73 is the "proposed highway to demonstrate intelligent transportation systems authorized by item 29 of the table in section 1107(b) in the vicinity of Christiansburg." According to VDOT, 12 potential Interstate 73 corridors were studied before they chose one that roughly follows U.S. 460 through Giles and Montgomery Counties, the Smart Road and Interstate 81, Interstate 581 and then south roughly following U.S. Route 220 to the North Carolina line.

In June 1999, the Virginia General Assembly resolved that Interstate 73 is a vital part of the state's economy. The summary reads, "Expresses the sense of the General Assembly that Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Virginia Department of Transportation proceed expeditiously with the public hearing for the selection of the location corridor for Interstate Route 73, Interstate Route 81 to the North Carolina state boundary. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is also requested to select as its northern most alignment for Interstate 73, Interstate Route 581, from its intersection with Interstate Route 81 to its terminus at Elm Avenue in the City of Roanoke, and after leaving Interstate Route 581, be aligned in the most appropriate location for an Interstate route in Roanoke, Franklin, and Henry Counties." (Summary courtesy of Hunter Atkinson.)

Note that the "summary" actually tells VDOT which alignment Interstate 73 should take in Roanoke. The various alignments for Interstate 73 that were proposed around or through Roanoke are summarized below. It is also worth mentioning that the first part of Interstate 73 to be built will be the portion from Roanoke south to Myrtle Beach, while the section from Roanoke north to Michigan is either on hold or scheduled for construction well beyond 2020. Nevertheless, we will start our discussion with the Smart Road segment.

The Smart Road: Interstate 73 from Rich Creek to Christiansburg

Interstate 73 will enter Virginia from West Virginia via U.S. 460 and the Smart Road, then link with Interstate 81 on its way northeast to Roanoke. The Smart Road itself is only a brief, 1.7-mile segment from Blacksburg toward Interstate 81. The rest, existing U.S. 460, the U.S. 460 Bypass around Blacksburg, and new construction of 4.0 miles to connect the Smart Road with Interstate 81, will make up Interstate 73 from Interstate 81 west to the West Virginia line at Rich Creek. I received this email regarding the Smart Road/Intelligent Highway from Christopher F. Elledge, who lives in Blacksburg, Virginia:

The "Smart Road" highway project is the subject of much debate in this rural part of the state. The Smart Road will cut off about a dozen miles from the common Blacksburg to Roanoke trip. In addition, it will be the site of much technical research in the field of Intelligent Transportation Systems. Not only will the roadbed have dozens of sensors for highway-to-car communication, it will also have such things as snow making towers to simulate adverse weather for testing purposes. It will also go through unadulterated valleys, farms, etc., and all the environmentalists came out at the ground breaking two months ago [1998].

Josh Crockett wrote me in early July 1998 with some additional information about the "Smart Road" and possible routings of Interstate 73 prior to its opening in 2020:

Nobody around Virginia Tech (VT) counts on the Smart Road getting built anytime before 2020 (as the VT Center for Transportation Research site says). It's a magnet for the environmentalists all up and down the mountains, and any VT student with a green streak will join in the fun. It would be a very good thing for most of us, as the vast majority of us come from Northern Virginia (NoVA), Hampton Roads, and Richmond. It would cut probably 10-15 minutes off those trips, as well as the Roanoke trips that go on every weekend. Plus, it might even make it possible to get in and out of town on football weekends during the fall. But it's not likely to happen anytime before I start talking to my future children about going to VT.

What I could see happening, at least temporarily, is routing Interstate 73 along U.S. 460 all the way down to Interstate 81 at Christiansburg. A bypass of the Exit 118 mess is currently under construction to link the U.S. 460 Bypass of downtown Christiansburg directly to Interstate 81 (which will probably be named Exit 117 when it is completed in Spring 1999). [I have not heard if this link has been constructed and opened as of the summer of 2000.] After that, a bypass of the four to five mile long U.S. 460 Blacksburg-Christiansburg corridor is also planned. Once this is done, an upgrade of the "T" intersection at Southgate Drive (entering the VT campus) to something as simple as a half-cloverleaf could make a good 10-15 mile stretch of U.S. 460 passable as Interstate 73 for the time being. And who knows, it might even make a good Interstate 173 if the Smart Road ever does get built as the Interstate 73 corridor proper.

There is a web page related to the new Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) road near Blacksburg. According to the Virginia Tech web page, the Smart Road portion of Interstate 73 will not be completed as a four-lane freeway until around 2020, depending on traffic demands. Also, the road will be the site of myriad tests and studies regarding new ITS. There is a timeline that shows how they will build the Smart Road in phases and what studies they will perform during the construction of the road. I highly recommend checking out this link.

According to correspondent Brendan, only three pieces remain to connect Blacksburg directly to Interstate 81: continuing the U.S. 460 Christiansburg bypass West to the Smart Road interchange with South Main Street (aka "Alternative 3A"), finishing the South Main Street/Smart Road/Alt. 3A interchange, and finally extending the Smart Road to Interstate 81. A great map showing this can be found on at The Roanoke Times's Smart Road Web site. The red portion (except for a direct connection for public traffic) and "Bypass exntension" are the completed parts.

Alternative 3A is currently under construction. Most businesses in the right-of-way are gone and some of the concrete structures which will carry the highway over the valley, parallel to existing U.S. 460, are already in place. Part of the South Main Street interchange has also already been completed. With the exception of the Smart Road extension, once all the bypassing is done I suspect the entire portion from west of Blacksburg to the end of the new direct connection to Interstate 81 at Exit 118B will be signed "Business," with the rest getting U.S. 460 shields, locally referred to as "U.S. 460 Bypass."

There is also an Anti-Smart Road web page.

With the construction of the Smart Road (Interstate 73), according to Hunter Atkinson, there will be three ways for people to get from Blacksburg area to Interstate 81:

  1. Take the current route, which is the Blacksburg bypass to Christiansburg/Blacksburg Business to Christiansburg bypass to Interstate 81;
  2. Take the Blacksburg bypass to alternative 3a (limited access/55 mph) to the Christiansburg bypass to Interstate 81
  3. Take the Blacksburg bypass to smart road to Interstate 81 (access only at ends of road).

From what I've heard, this project sounds like the ITS demonstration project along the Interstate 15 Express Lanes in San Diego (see NHS High Priority Corridor 16 for more on that).

Interstate 73 from Christiansburg to Roanoke

Regardless of the ITS project, this strange routing description of Interstate 73 in Virginia is fairly accurate based on the NHS legislation of 1995, with Interstate 73 heading northeast along Interstate 81 to Roanoke from Christiansburg. I guess we won't know for sure until the road is actually constructed.

Christopher F. Elledge adds, "and having the multiplexed Interstate 73/81 running in opposite directions between Blacksburg-Christiansburg and Salem (west of Roanoke, probably about where Interstate 73 will split to head for U.S. 220) would be nothing new in Southwest Virginia. Interstate 77/81 already runs about nine miles in tandem around Wytheville (eventually Interstate 74 east/west will be multiplexed with Interstate 77 south/north south of here) in opposite directions."

Interstate 73 Around Roanoke

In May 2001, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board elected to route Interstate 73 along Interstate 581 through Roanoke. The Board consists of 17 independent representatives appointed by the Governor who have the final say on where the road goes. VDOT gathers all the information, makes comments, and prepares proposals, but the CTB has the final vote. Leading up to this decision, VDOT proposed several possible alignments for the route of Interstate 73. The three major alternatives were:

  • Build a new highway on the east side of the Roanoke Valley through Boutetourt and Bedford Counties (exiting Interstate 81 somewhere north of Exit 146). This has been voted against by both of those respective counties Boards of Supervisors; in spite of this, VDOT is obligated to continue its study of this alternative in preparing its recommendation of all viable corridors. According to the VDOT web page (as of March 1999), "The portion of this option between Interstate 81 and Blue Ridge was moved to avoid the Appalachian Trail and Jefferson National Forest and to lessen the impacts to development along Mountain Pass Road." This will satisfy some resident concerns, but not those who are worried that the proposed Interstate will enter their backyards.
  • Build a new highway on the west side of the Roanoke Valley. This route southwest of Roanoke has strong opposition from regional groups who say it would pose a problem because they would literally have to go straight through a mountain. Residents in western Roanoke County (especially the Bent Mountain area) and Salem don't see the western route being viable, especially because of the terrain along some portions of the route. According to the VDOT web page, "The western option has been refined to avoid Mowles Springs Park in the City of Salem. This park is classified as Section 4(f) parkland and, as such, cannot be acquired unless there are no other feasible and prudent alternatives. Moving this option slightly to stay out of the Park and the City of Salem is a feasible alternative. Additionally, the southernmost portion of the original western option was combined into the southern portion of the alternative that runs behind Tanglewood Mall. This connection was made to shorten the overall route and minimize duplication of alternatives that accomplish the same objective."
  • Duplex Interstate 73 with Interstate 581 from Interstate 81 to downtown Roanoke, then continue on U.S. 220 to the south. Some opponents don't understand the reasoning of bypassing Roanoke with a new highway when all the politicos called for the road to come to Roanoke for 'economic development.'" Of the three choices, the Interstate 581 overlay appears to have the least opposition since that highway has already been constructed. However, the road is expected to handle significantly increased traffic loads over the next 10-20 years, so it is unclear if upgrades to Interstate 581 will be necessary prior to it being designated as part of Interstate 73. VDOT's preliminary study indicates that the "increase in traffic that would come from overlaying Interstate 73 onto Interstate 581 could require additional lanes," which may be difficult to construct due to the location of existing businesses and residences along Interstate 581. The city of Roanoke seems to prefer this option, but there are problems with that, such as the new commercial development (including Lowe's, Wal-Mart, strip malls) that is choosing that corridor as the next "development site" for the Roanoke region. This will make upgrading the freeway more difficult.

In early 1999, Hunter Atkinson wrote that Richard Cranwell, the senior Democrat from the Vinton (a suburb of Roanoke) sponsored legislation that "highly encourages" VDOT to build the southern part of Interstate 73 down the Interstate 581 and U.S. 220 corridors south of Roanoke. This legislation was passed and sent to Governor Gilmore. Included in this package is that authority was given to local governments in Virginia to have a say in where any new Interstate goes. This resolution is cited at the top of the Virginia section, with strong language to encourage VDOT to route Interstate 73 along Interstate 581 in Roanoke.

The primary reason that the General Assembly did not instruct the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to build Interstate 73 along U.S. 220 all the way to the North Carolina State Line near Martinsville is that U.S. 220 in places is banked at 15-20 degrees, calling for hairpin turns of 25 mph advised speed limit or less. My impression is that Interstate 73 will roughly parallel U.S. 220 on a parallel alignment, with bypasses near Boones Mill, Rocky Mount, and the Collinsville/Stanleytown Business district.

For more information on proposed Interstate 73 in and around Roanoke and central Virginia, check out Roanoke Times' Interstate 73 Page.

Interstate 73 from Roanoke to Martinsville

In May 2001, the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board selected a location for Interstate 73 south of Roanoke. It would overlap Interstate 581 in Roanoke to Elm Avenue, then veer to the southeast and enter Franklin County near Coopers Cove, travels east of Rocky Mount into Henry County and stay east of Martinsville, before turning slightly and entering North Carolina southwest of Ridgeway. According to a VDOT press release from May 2001, the selected corridor is about 66.5 miles long, and its construction cost is estimated to be $1.23 billion in today's dollars. Approximately 506 homes, 42 businesses and one non-profit organization may be affected by the road's path.

The location study leading up to this selection took four years. At two separate news conferences - one in Roanoke and one in Martinsville - VDOT announced on Tuesday July 22, 1997 that the location study for Interstate 73 between Roanoke and Martinsville was officially beginning. The area of the study extends from the Roanoke area to the North Carolina border. A corridor for this route was selected in 1994 and the current study will identify several possible locations for the route within the approximately five-mile wide corridor. The study is expected to take about three years.

VDOT had three major options available for the U.S. 220 Corridor between Roanoke and the North Carolina State Line:

  • No Build Alternative. If this is selected, Interstate 73 would not be built. There could be minor improvements to U.S. 220 and routine maintenance. The study will determine conditions for U.S. 220 in 2020 if Interstate 73 were not built.
  • Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternative. If this is selected, there could be more improvements to U.S. Route 220 to improve safety. For example, the placement of crossovers, extension of turn lanes and access points would be studied.
  • New Interstate Alternative (Interstate 73). (Although it could include all or part of existing Interstate 581 and U.S. 220.) Under this alternative are several options involving construction of a highway to interstate standards (like Interstate 81). It would be a four-lane, limited access highway. The right-of-way would generally vary from 200 to 400 feet, depending on terrain.

According to an email dated August 13, 1998, Hunter Atkinson wrote that VDOT held studies on the widening of Interstate 81, which is also Interstate 73's route between Blacksburg-Christiansburg and Roanoke. These studies show an upgrading of the road to at least eight lanes wide each way near Roanoke. The Roanoke Times has several articles about the Interstate 81 widening project and about the Interstate 73 routing studies.

Throughout the selection process and studies for potential Interstate 73 alignments, VDOT has undergone public scrutiny. Many residents are not pleased with the northern and southern routes being studied. The public seems to prefer routing Interstate 73 either down Interstate 581 or not building it. VDOT claims the northern and southern route studies from Interstate 81 south are to satisfy some federal environmental law.

From an official letter from the Assistant Secretary of Transportation to Hunter Atkinson dated September 1998, plans called for the Draft Environmental Design statement to be available in March 1999. Information learned from these detailed studies during the Interstate 73 Location Study will require additional investigation, so it has been incorporated into the development of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). VDOT conducted Location Public Hearings in late 1999 to receive comment on the document, as well as the location of the corridors under study. Following these hearings, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) is anticipated to make the final decision on the location of the corridor for Interstate 73.

In 1999, signs were posted along U.S. 220 between Roanoke and Martinsville that tout the road as the Interstate 73 corridor. The green signs have the standard Interstate shield centered between "Future Corridor" with a smaller sign at the bottom with a toll-free number to call for details. The shield is tagged "73" with "Future" instead of "Virginia" at the top. There is even an 800 number for additional information on some roadside signs. This leads me to believe that the official Interstate 73 routing in Virginia has been determined; however, it is still unclear how Interstate 73 will be routed in and around Roanoke.

According to Bruce Harper, "the improvements to the section of U.S. 220 south of Roanoke are much needed, since there are sections that have seen numerous truck accidents, due to curves, hills, and poor driving on an unsafe road." VDOT, on its web page on Interstate 73, writes (as of March 1999):

The stated purpose for a NHS (National Highway System) priority corridor is to link regions and support economic growth. Economic growth in the cities, towns and counties along U.S. Route 220 has and continues to be constrained by the limited transportation access to major markets and suppliers. U.S. Route 220 safety issues, its present geometric configuration and the uncontrolled access are perceived to limit the study area's ability to grow economically. The local jurisdictions with the support of Commonwealth-sponsored Enterprise Zones have provided the economic incentives for development. Currently, U.S. Route 220 cannot serve the corridor's transportation needs to these areas. The high percentage of truck traffic in the U.S. Route 220 corridor is comparable to that experienced on existing Virginia interstate highways. This volume of trucks operating on a primary road with steep grades, poor site distances, dangerous crossovers and uncontrolled access, contributes to a safety problem in the corridor. The Interstate 73 project is intended to address these transportation deficiencies.

One article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch ("Virginia rates costs of Interstate 73/Top tallies: $1.4 billion, 445 displaced homes") from Thursday, July 15, 1999, states that construction of the 70-mile stretch of Interstate 73 between the North Carolina State Line and Roanoke may results in a costs as high as $1.4 billion, with as many as 445 homes that may have to be removed. However, even if Interstate 73 is not built, U.S. 220 is projected to see increased traffic counts, which will likely result in eminent domain acquisition of property for any kind of highway widening or expansion.

As of mid-1999, the Interstate 74 project has low priority, Interstate 73 south of Roanoke has high priority but no official funding as of yet (or very little) as it will probably not be complete until 2025 or so, Interstate 73 northwest of Roanoke (i.e., the Smart Road) probably will not enter the design stage until at least 2010, and the bulk of the statewide Interstate 81 widening project (which includes any concurrent sections with Interstate 73) should be completed by 2020.

For more on the routing studies of Interstate 73 in Virginia, keep up-to-date at VDOT's excellent Virginia Interstate 73 Project Home Page. Although there are comments to the contrary, I doubt that any decisions on the Interstate 73 routing studies will be made prior to 2000.

Opposition to this stretch of Interstate 73 has also occurred. One group, the Concerned Citizens About Interstate 73 (Virginia) worries about the effect the proposed new highway will have on the environment and quality of life.

The Interstate 73 Communications Committee was formed by a resolution of the Virginia General Assembly in 1998 to "provide an institutional and organizational link between the citizens and businesses of south-central Virginia and their legislative representatives in the General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Transportation" and to "receive and disseminate communication between the Department and those most directly and greatly concerned with the speedy completion and success of the Interstate construction projects". The resolution states that "the citizens and businesses of south-central Virginia are eager to become involved with, support, and promote the expeditious construction of Interstate Route 73."

In late February 2000, Interstate 73 was added as a "high-priority" project for the state of Virginia, per Governor Jim Gilmore. According to The Roanoke Times from Tuesday, February 29, 2000 ("Gilmore puts priority on Interstate 73 in plan"), other projects already on the governor's list include Interstate 81, the Coalfields Expressway, U.S. 58, and passenger rail service from Bristol to Richmond and Washington, D.C. In spite of this gubernatorial designation, no additional funds have been earmarked for Interstate 73 as a direct result of this action.

North Carolina

NCDOT provides a Map of Interstate 73/74 in North Carolina on its homepage. Also check out NCRoads.com Interstate 73/74 Page.

The NHS/ISTEA/TEA-21 legislation indicates that Interstate 73 will follow U.S. 220 south to N.C. 68 near Greensboro. Somewhere between Madison (Rockingham County) and Stokesdale (NW Guilford County), the highway will separate from 220 and head to the west of Greensboro, connecting with NC 68 in its limited access portion (which is right near Piedmont Triad International Airport). Then Interstate 73 will follow the Greensboro Loop around the city, via N.C. 68 to Interstate 40. Interstate 73 will continue south along Interstate 40 to U.S. 220 in Greensboro, and then U.S. 220 south to U.S. 1 in Rockingham. From there to South Carolina, Interstate 73 will follow U.S. 1. The legislation itself is worded incorrectly; it implies that Interstate 73 would follow U.S. 74/76 to the South Carolina line in Brunswick County, which is not possible. Instead, has been re-routed in Richmond County. Instead of running south of the U.S. 220 terminus via U.S. 1 to South Carolina, plans in 2005 call for it to ride along the U.S. 74 Rockingham-Hamlet bypass and then turn south via North Carolina 38 to cross the state line.

According to the Courier-Tribune article, "Interstate segment to open Nov. 28" by Mary Anderson (Oct. 31, 2000), "I-73 will come into North Carolina from Virginia in Rockingham County, cross Guilford County and take the U.S. 220 route into Randolph County. I-73/74 (combine to) go through Montgomery and Richmond counties, where south of Hamlet, they will separate again with I-73 going to South Carolina and I-74 going through Scotland, Robeson, Columbus and Brunswick counties to the coast."

Some segments of Interstate 73 south of Asheboro (between Ulah and Ether) have already received their Interstate shields, and in some other areas, the Interstate 73 sign is up, with a "Future" disclaimer above the interstate shield. According to John Lansford, the future banners are required because "little unconnected segments of Interstates are not allowed. All we can do is label where the future route will go until there are big chunks in operation." So Interstate 73 is a "real interstate" in some parts of North Carolina, except that it does not officially enter any other state besides North Carolina. The 1998 Rand McNally map shows the Interstate 73/74 designation south of Greensboro.

Interstate 73 will enter North Carolina in Rockingham County via the current U.S. 220 freeway. It will continue south until the junction with U.S. 158. At this point, Interstate 73 will turn south along a new roadway to meet N.C. 68 and the new N.C. 68 freeway. Then Interstate 73 will supersede N.C. 68 south to the Interstate 40 junction in Greensboro.

Interstate 40 and Interstate 73 will combine over an unbuilt bypass around the city of Greensboro until it meets Interstate 85. This bypass, called "Painter Boulevard" or the Greensboro "Urban Loop," is a multi-year, long-term project for that area.

According to John Lansford, the construction for the Greensboro Bypass has already begun, with new construction appearing during the summer of 1998. Bridges are sprouting up just east of Interstate 40/85 Exit 130, as the interchange begins to take place. Traffic narrows down to two lanes in this area along Interstate 40/Interstate 85.

Interstate 73 will meet U.S. 220 again at the south end of the Greensboro loop and continue south via the U.S. 220 freeway. What is it about U.S. 220 that brings us such incongruous numbers, like 73, 74, and 99?

In August 1998, James Kilbourne was traveling into South Carolina on U.S. 1 south of Rockingham, where he spotted an Interstate 73 Corridor sign. James writes, "I need to get back down there to take a picture, because there are few places outside of Montana that I have more lonely and deserted than this stretch of highway on this dark night. I hitched onto a convoy of a couple southbound trucks, because the markings were so bad and the night was so dark. I am not even sure that route deserved a U.S. Highway designation much less an Interstate. Had those trucks [driven off the road] through the trees, I would have certainly followed. [Interstate 73/74] seems destined to remain -- at least until it is substantially completed -- a very lonely road."

According to the Courier-Tribune article, "Interstate segment to open Nov. 28" by Mary Anderson, the Rockingham Bypass section of Interstate 73/74 opens on November 28, 2000, according to G.R. Kindley, District 8 Highway Commissioner. Kindley made the announcement at a meeting of the Interstate 73/74 Association in Rockingham, the site of the original meeting of the association in October 1992. The organization, which had been inactive through much of 1999 and 2000, was reconvened to hear the announcement on the progress of the Interstate 73/74 corridor.

At the meeting, the vice chairman of the association (Glenn Sumpter) stated, "What I found out was that N.C. DOT had no interest in another interstate," Sumpter said dryly. "I found one DOT offiial who had even heard of I-73, but he wasn't interested." The association looked at I-73/74 as another way for (Sen. Richard) Byrd to get more federal money for West Virginia, said Calvin Leggett, manager of the Program Development Branch of NCDOT. Kindley, the District 8 Commissioner, lobbied for I-73/74, and this helped get the Interstate constructed.

Leggett said I-73/74 is in progress, but is still a mixed bag with stretches being added to the system as they are completed. Looking back at the history of the I-73/74 Association, Sumpter said the group was unified by Bob Jordan, former lieutenant governor, who led a push for a Transpark air delivery system in the central park of the state. That project fell through, but Jordan told Sumpter that the cooperation among the six counties involved was so great, they should take on another project.

The article continues, "Joe Grimsley, president of Richmond Community College, suggested that G.R. Kindley, an Asheboro native, the mayor of Rockingham and a member of the state board of transportation, lead the group. The first statewide meeting was held in Asheboro in March 1993. In June 1993, representatives from Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and the Carolinas met for a multi-state organization and in March 1994, testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Surface Transportation.

"The National Highway System bill, designating I-73/74 through North Carolina as a high priority corridor, was passed in 1995. Leggett said Monday night [October 30, 2000] that in Randolph County work is on-going on U.S. 311 from High Point to Randleman. In Montgomery and Richmond counties, the 16-mile stretch between Emory near Candor to Ellerbe was delayed due to environmental concerns for streams, but planning has been completed with construction scheduled to begin in 2002. Leggett said completion of the two interstate highways would take another 10 years and cost $2 billion. Some existing highways being incorporated are not up to Interstate standards. To avoid years of delay, these sections will be used until they can be improved." (Thanks to Stephen Summers for referring the article.)

More on North Carolina Interstate 73 is available at Interstate 73 Progress Page (Bob Malme) and NCRoads.com (Matt Steffora).

South Carolina

The original ISTEA / NHS legislation had Interstate 73 heading southeast from the North Carolina State Line south to Charleston, with no existing routes specified. However, the TEA-21 legislation shortened the route of Interstate 73 by providing for its terminus in either Myrtle Beach or Georgetown. According to David Whitezel, signs designating the "Future Interstate 73 Corridor" have been erected near Myrtle Beach, but there are none south of there along U.S. 17.

According to the South Carolina DOT, Interstate 73 will enter the state via South Carolina 38 (not U.S. 1 due to a change in 2005). Interstate 73 will meet U.S. 701 in Conway, then follow U.S. 701 south to meet Interstate 74 and U.S. 17 at Georgetown. If a coastal Interstate 101 (along U.S. 17 and U.S. 13 between Wilmington, North Carolina, and Wilmington, Delaware, via the Delmarva Peninsula) is ever built, then this would be the likely connecting point between Interstate 73 and Interstate 101 via Interstate 74.

From Myrtle Beach, Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 was originally planned to run tandem to their terminus in Charleston via U.S. 17. The change in the terminus for Interstate 73 came about because of local opposition in the Charleston area, which is already served by Interstate 26. The now defunct Anti-Interstate 73/74 in South Carolina Web Site (here as of 1997, gone as of early 2000) opined that the South Carolina DOT feels this route does not serve South Carolina's transportation needs, but the DOT is being forced to built it to satisfy the needs of other states and the federal government (see SCDOT letter below). Locals felt Interstate 73/74 was a road that Congress wanted but they, the locals, do not need. Additionally, coastal residents were wary of an Interstate highway built along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Local opposition to the planned upgrade of U.S. 17 into Interstate 73/74 caused politicians to formally abandon the idea in 1998.

South Carolina political and business leaders officials then had to look elsewhere for a terminus, since the disputed section was only along the coastline. Officials wanted to ensure the Interstate would bring desired economic development. Myrtle Beach, about 60 miles from Interstate 95, long has wanted an Interstate of its own. Therefore, Interstate 73 will extend at least as far as Myrtle Beach. Georgetown wanted a highway, too, but environmental and historic preservation groups are wary, so it is possible that the section of Corridor 5 that will connect to Georgetown may or may not be built to Interstate standard.

Regardless of whether Interstate 73/74 is built to Interstate standards to Georgetown, Interstate 73/74 will not continue south to Charleston, as that section was deleted from the legal description of Corridor 5. The passage of TEA-21 brought the planned Interstate 73/74 corridor to an end at Myrtle Beach.

From the Stop Interstate 73 Web Page is a letter from H.B. Limehouse, the Chairman of the Transportation Commission in South Carolina (on 6/20/97) that explains the original planned Interstate 73 routing:

Input will be sought on Interstate 73

Since the S.C. Department of Transportation unveiled signs last month marking the Interstate 73 corridor, there has been a lot of discussion about the type of highway and exact location of the new interstate. I appreciate this opportunity to address some of those concerns and to provide some background about the new interstate.

Congress designated Route Interstate 73 as a high priority route in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. The unfunded route was to run from Charleston, S.C., to Detroit, Mich., with the specific route to be determined by the various states through which the route was to be located.

The SCDOT Commission devoted a lot of thought and time to establishing the specific route through South Carolina. We were advised at that time by federal transportation officials that Congress would likely not authorize additional interstate mileage, which would have prevented Interstate 73 from being funded at interstate standards. This made it necessary to locate the route along existing highways that could later be upgraded as part of the national highway system. Thus, the Interstate 73 corridor was established.

Congress later passed the National Highway System Designation Act, which stated that Interstate 73 would now have to be built to interstate standards. What this means to S.C. residents along the designated Interstate 73 corridor is that they will have every opportunity to express their views about the location of that new road.

If and when Interstate 73 is funded, public hearings will be held, socioeconomic and environmental studies will have to be conducted before the final route is determined and rights of way are negotiated and purchased.

In the meantime, the public can look forward to public meetings on Interstate 73, which will be conducted by SCDOT's consultant who is completing the feasibility report.

This new Interstate will provide a wealth of good to the economically depressed Pee Dee area of the state. It will open up trade to the ports and will provide a direct link from Florence to Charleston. It could be the means for an economic lifeline to the area.

It's important for the public to also realize that in addition to making long-range plans about the future of Interstate 73, the S.C. Department of Transportation is working hard to program transportation projects in all areas of the state. The transportation needs of our great state far outweigh the abilities to fund those new roads - but I can assure you that the people at SCDOT are meeting daily challenges and are being creative and innovative in their work.

H.B. LIMEHOUSE
Chairman
S.C. Department of Transportation Commission
955 Park St.
Columbia, SC

South Carolina's U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford added the amendment to TEA-21 that puts Interstate 73's official end at Georgetown rather than Charleston, but the Georgetown County route will not be designated as an Interstate. Sanford said, "This means the Interstate stops in Myrtle Beach, but there is a chance to review the decision in six years with the next highway bill."

The Georgetown County route, along U.S. 701, will be a high-priority corridor, meaning it will get some preference when money is available. And in a compromise with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, U.S. 521 from Georgetown to Interstate 95 at Manning also is designated a high-priority corridor. Clyburn wanted an Interstate 73 spur running along state Highway 41 so part of his district would see some benefit. The designation of U.S. 521 helps Clyburn's district as well as Georgetown County.

Adam Prince writes that the SCDOT Commission has endorsed a corridor "from the state line to near Georgetown, following U.S. 1 to Wallace, S.C. 9 to Bennettsville, S.C. 38 and U.S. 501 near Marion, U.S. 501 to Conway and U.S. 701 to near Georgetown. The northern phase of the project has been identified as a high priority, since it is critical to the economically depressed Pee Dee region of our state. I-73 will provide a lifeline of economic stability to the area."

Some environmental and historical groups that oppose the interstate through Georgetown County are not completely satisfied, Sanford said. But "I had to come up with something that left the overall possibility there for the people who do want it," he said.

The Stop Interstate 73 web page states that SCDOT believes that the current U.S. 17 route is more than adequate for traffic between Georgetown and Charleston. SCDOT was only considering an upgrade to this stretch of road due to the Congressional mandate of the Interstate 73/74 high priority corridor. Now that the U.S. 17 section has been removed from the legislation, it is likely that it will remain a two- to four-lane highway, not a multi-lane freeway.

The Conway Bypass: South Carolina 22

Construction has already begun on the new Interstate 73 Corridor in South Carolina. The 1999, 2000, and 2001 National Geographic Road Atlases show the "Conway Bypass," which roughly parallels U.S. 501 to the north. According to Adam Prince, on June 29, 2000, the first segment of the ultimate 28.5 mile route was opened. This bypass may ultimately carry the Interstate 73 designation or an I-x73 designation, but is initially called South Carolina 22. According to Ben Blevins, "On U.S. 501 near Galivants Ferry, South Carolina, I saw signs stating it as the Future Interstate 73 corridor. There is also a huge cloverleaf under construction about two miles south of North Myrtle Beach. One of the local residents told me that this was for Interstate 73. Between Cheraw and Marion, I don't know where exactly the route will run, but I assume that it may be more or less a straight line."

Plans have developed since the NHS legislation was passed, especially in terms of how Interstates 73 and 74 will interplay between Conway, Myrtle Beach, and Georgetown. Interstate 74 will leave North Carolina via U.S. 17 to Georgetown via the Waccamaw Neck. The Interstate will follow South Carolina 31 (Carolina Bays Parkway) to meet Interstate 73 again at the interchange between South Carolina 31 and South Carolina 22 (Conway Bypass). Interstates 73 and 74 would again merge a final time, following South Carolina 31 and U.S. 17 to a southeasterly terminus at Georgetown. The ISTEA/NHS legislation indicated that Interstate 73/74 would have continued southwest into Charleston, but that has since been removed from the legislation (per the TEA-21 law passed in 1998).

For more information, check out the Conway Bypass web page and All Things NC! (Adam Prince).

If Interstate 73 Had Continued to Charleston...

The next three paragraphs detail what might have been if Interstate 73 was not curtailed. Plans called for Interstate 73 to diverge from existing U.S. 17 in Mt Pleasant. At that point, there are new developments, so Interstate 73 would have just swing westward, inland around over the Wando River and Cainhoy Rd area and linked up with Interstate 526 between North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. Since Interstate 526 is a new bypass, it could have easily handled a freeway-to-freeway connection to Interstate 73.

Prior to 1998, it was unclear if Interstate 73 will replace U.S. 17 south of the northern Interstate 526 interchange or not. The Interstate 73 project might have included some new bridges in the area, including a new Cooper River Bridge. It is possible that a cable stayed bridge may have replaced the aging and/or inadequate structures.

There were no official plans, but some suggested that Interstate 73 could have continued south of downtown Charleston and potentially link it to South Carolina 30 (James Island Expressway). Interstate 73 might have even continued southwest along U.S. 17 to meet Interstate 95 near Savannah.

Interstate 73 in Tennessee?

I received an email from Mayor Charles M. Hensley of Unicoi, Tennessee. He started (and ended), in 1999, an attempt to move the routing of future Interstate 73/74 south through Tennessee and along under-construction Interstate 26 in Tennessee and North Carolina. His plan was to generate interest in making the Interstate 26 corridor into a part of Corridor 5. Mayor Hensley used to have a web page dedicated to this notion, but I think he abandoned his quest once he realized that the Corridor 5 routing was set and that Interstate 26 is likely to be extended to near his town.

Since moving Corridor 5 to Interstate 26 will be rather difficult thing to do (since so much planning has already been made in Virginia and North Carolina to route Interstate 73 along U.S. 220), Mayor Hensley and his associate, R.O. Smith, are planning to discuss creating a new high priority corridor along Interstate 26 with their U.S. Representative, Bill Jenkins. The goal for this new corridor would be economic benefits for a depressed region. I'll let you know more details as I hear them.

INTERSTATE 74

Iowa, Illinois, Indiana

Only the NHS (not the ISTEA) legislation includes the Interstate 74 extension, and it does not consider the original routing of Interstate 74 from the Quad Cities southeast to Cincinnati via Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, or Indianapolis.

Ohio

In the NHS legislation, Interstate 74 is not defined in Ohio except at the southwestern end near Portsmouth. Thus, we can infer that Interstate 74 will follow U.S. 52, Ohio 32, and/or Ohio 125 southeast to Interstate 73 (U.S. 23) and Portsmouth. Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 will then exit Ohio together via U.S. 52.

Sandor Gulyas researched the route of Interstate 73 and 74 in Ohio, and found a map with the proposed alignments from the early 1990s. These maps are available on the Interstate 73/74 Ohio Page.

Our Ohio Highways guru, John Simpson, has more detail on proposed Interstate 74 through (or around) Cincinnati. The problem is how to get Interstate 74 from its current eastern terminal at Interstate 75 to Batavia. The following proposals are listed in order of increasing likelihood.

  1. Extend Interstate 74 nearly due east (slightly south) directly from Interstate 75 to Ohio 32. There is absolutely no chance of this happening. Such a road would have to cut directly through many city neighborhoods (Clifton, Avondale, Evanston, Hyde Park, etc.). It would also require a new bridge across the Little Miami River, which is designated a national scenic river.
  2. Route Interstate 74 north on Interstate 75, east on Ohio 562 (the Norwood Lateral), north on Interstate 71, and construct a new road to connect Interstate 74 to Ohio 32. This would again require a new bridge over the Little Miami River. It would also require cutting through Madeira and Indian Hill. Since Indian Hill is one of the wealthier and more affluent communities of greater Cincinnati, it is unlikely that a new Interstate highway will be routed through there.
  3. Route Interstate 74 north on Interstate 75 and then east and south on Interstate 275. This would be a very out-of-the-way routing for Interstate 74.
  4. Route Interstate 74 north on Interstate 75 and then east on either Ohio 562 or unsigned Ohio 126 (Ronald Reagan Highway), north on Interstate 71, and east and south on Interstate 275. Again, this is an out-of-the-way route. Interstate 74 would have to go north on Interstate 71, as there is no chance that the Reagan Highway will be extended east of Montgomery Rd. (U.S. 22/Ohio 3).
  5. Another alternative would seem to be Interstate 75 south, Fort Washington Way (Interstate 71/U.S. 50), Interstate 471 south, Interstate 275 east and north. Even this route has problems, as the eastern part of Fort Washington Way -- the part that is U.S. 50 alone and not Interstate 71 -- does not meet Interstate standards. Also, the ramps from U.S. 50 (Fort Washington Way) eastbound to Interstate 471 south and from Interstate 471 north to Fort Washington Way westbound are one lane each, and widening them is not feasible. Also, the westbound ramp is a very tight loop -- posted as 25 mph. During the mid-1990s, the future of Fort Washington Way itself was up in the air with regards to the city of Cincinnati's riverfront development plan. Through complicated negotiations between the city, various city agencies, the county, sports franchise owners (such as Bengals owner Mike Brown), and various other special interest groups, it appears like Fort Washington Way will remain as thoroughfare, although it is not clear if the road could ever be upgraded to an Interstate status. On July 11, 1999, Joe Fay reported that as of June 1998, renovations began on overhauling Fort Washington Way, making it take up less space but still with four lanes in each direction. "Fort Washington Way definitely has a future as Paul Brown Stadium (for the Cincinnati Bengals) is well underway and about 40% done. Also, there will be a new baseball park right next to current Cinergy Field (Riverfront Stadium). All of the ramps to and from Fort Washington Way are being overhauled." For more information, please go to the Fort Washington Way 2000 webpage.

There is also the issue of how to route Interstate 74 through the Eastgate area. This is the area around the Interstate 275/Ohio 32 interchange and Ohio 32 east to Batavia. This stretch of Ohio 32 is very congested and has many grade crossings. I have heard some vague plans about an "Eastgate Parkway", which as I understand it would roughly follow Clough Pike -- an east-west road running between Ohio 32 and Ohio 125 -- to Batavia. However, I think this project is just on the Clermont County wish list with no support from the state.

In the eastern Cincinnati area, existing U.S. 50F (where the F stands for "future route") connection from Interstate 275 to U.S. 50 may become Interstate 74. This connection has been U.S. 50F since the 1970s, and it is the only part of the U.S. 50 freeway ODOT completed in that area.

It will be interesting to see what develops with Interstate 74 in Cincinnati, but I wouldn't expect it to go further east than Interstate 75 anytime soon. However, plans call for Interstate 74 to continue from Batavia onward toward Peebles via Ohio 32. East of Peebles, Interstate 74 will follow Ohio 73, Ohio 348, and Ohio 728 to intersect the proposed Interstate 73 near Lucasville.

In misc.transport.road, on May 8, 1999, Donald L. Wallace wrote about Ohio 32 (known as the James A. Rhodes Appalachian Highway). "I just drove this road from Jackson County to the intersection of Ohio 73 during a recent vacation trip, and I was fascinated that such an empty, but superbly engineered four-lane, (California expressway-grade) highway could exist to serve so little traffic. The only drawback I could see is the existence of at-grade crossings, which given the freeway-type construction seems to be really dangerous. Curious that they post a speed of 60 MPH on a non freeway. It seems to be (a) vast overkill for the amount of traffic served."

Brian Powell responded that Ohio 32 was funded through the federal government's Appalachian Regional Development Commission. The at-grade crossings exist because of the low traffic volumes. Although there is limited traffic, a new interchange is being built at Ohio 327 for safety. Ohio posts 60 mph on most partially-controlled access divided highways. Before the construction of the highway, Ohio 32 was a poor two-lane road. In the gaps between four lanes, it became quite congested. Now, this under-utilized corridor may potentially become part of Interstate 74, unless Ohio's neighbor to the south succeeds in getting a piece of Interstate 74.

Kentucky

The TEA-21 Fiscal Year 1999 High Priority Allocations has items KY036 #1226 & 1580 to "conduct feasibility study for Northern Kentucky high-priority corridor (Interstate 74)." So, while plans go ahead for Interstate 66 and Interstate 69 in Kentucky, the state may also be looking at the possibility of grabbing Interstate 74 from Ohio which, after all, doesn't seem to want it. The "AA" ("Alexandria to Ashland") highway (KY 9 for the most part) was recently built as a new mostly two-lane highway, and could be upgraded to Interstate status more easily than building a new road.

During the spring of 1999, the state of Kentucky advertised for professional engineering services on a project running through "Gallatin, Owen, Grant, Pendleton, Harrison, Bracken and Mason (counties)." The services would be used for a "Conceptual Feasibility Study for Northern Kentucky - High Priority Corridor Routing as specified in Section 1602 of TEA-21 (P.L. 105-178)." I am not sure what this "high priority corridor" will be; my guess is that it may be a study for possible routings of Interstate 74 in Northern Kentucky. I have suspected that Interstate 74 may follow the "AA" (Alexandria-Ashland) Highway, but it may potentially follow other paths. Interstate 74 may even possibly connect to a proposed super-beltway around Cincinnati (dubbed as Interstate 875). At this point, it's anyone's guess.

West Virginia

NHS/ISTEA legislation has Interstate 74 entering the state cosigned with Interstate 73. It would follow U.S. 52 from Portsmouth, Ohio, southeast to Bluefield, West Virginia. At this point, Interstate 74 will depart southeast to meet Interstate 77 near Wytheville, Virginia, while Interstate 73 will turn east via U.S. 460 toward the Virginia state line.

Virginia

According to NHS legislation, Interstate 74 will follow U.S. 52 to Interstate 77. Then it will merge with Interstate 77 south into North Carolina.

Virginia DOT is currently planning and constructing an additional lane along the entire length of Interstate 81, which currently merges with Interstate 77 near Wytheville, Virginia. The planned widening of Interstate 81 throughout Virginia will produce a six- to eight-lane highway. As part of this planning process, VDOT indicates that the Interstate 77/81 overlap section may need ten or more lanes to accommodate traffic flows. With the addition of Interstate 74 to the Wytheville area, a new proposal has arisen.

VDOT officials are considering separating Interstates 81 and 77 in Wythe County along the 11-mile stretch where the two highways are joined. Cost is given as the primary reason for this proposed split, since there is development near the existing roadway, and ten-lane widening would be complex.

According to the Roanoke Times, "[Town councilman] Crockett has proposed a separate six-lane Interstate 77 which, he said, would be three miles shorter than its current route with Interstate 81. The new section could be built with little effect on businesses along the existing Interstate 81-77 corridor, he said. He said the cost figures of $35 million-per-mile for widening the Interstate would probably be too expensive. Crockett's proposed Interstate 77 route would mainly affect agricultural land. It would parallel Interstate 81 to the north. Such an eight-mile section could be completed in three to five years, Crockett said, if it got a high priority". If Interstate 74 is routed along Interstate 77 in Virginia, as has been proposed, then Interstate 74 would not have to overlap any of Interstate 81.

North Carolina

NCDOT provides a Map of Interstate 73/74 in North Carolina on its homepage, and we also recommend Bob Malme's Interstate 74 Progress Page.

According to NHS legislation, Interstate 74 will leave Interstate 77 at the U.S. 52 connector (briefly known as N.C. 752), which is Exit 101. Interstate 74 will then follow the U.S. 52 freeway southeast to Winston-Salem. The new Winston-Salem Loop bypass will carry Interstate 74 traffic, then it will follow U.S. 311 southeast to U.S. 220 (Interstate 73) near Randleman. Interstate 74 will merge with U.S. 220 (Interstate 73) for a second time here, then split from Interstate 73 at Rockingham and follow U.S. 74 east to the U.S. 76 junction in Whiteville. At Whiteville, Interstate 74 will follow U.S. 74-76 "to the South Carolina State line in Brunswick County." This is impossible, as U.S. 74-76 does not enter South Carolina at all. However, the last sentence indicates that Interstate 74 will turn south at this point to head to Charleston.

According to the Courier-Tribune article from October 31, 2000, "I-74 will come into North Carolina from Virginia in Surry County, bypass Mt. Airy, go through a corner of Stokes County, bypass Winston-Salem in Forsyth County, come into Randolph County along U.S. 311 where it will join I-73 between Randleman and Archdale. From that junction, I-73/74 will go through Montgomery and Richmond counties, where south of Hamlet, they will separate again with I-73 going to South Carolina and I-74 going through Scotland, Robeson, Columbus and Brunswick counties to the coast."

Interstate 74 will enter North Carolina in Surry County tandem with Interstate 77 from Virginia. It will break off Interstate 77 at the new Mount Airy connector (briefly known as State Route 752, now designated as Interstate 74). Former State Route 752, which is shown as complete on the 1999 and 2000 Rand McNally/National Geographic Road Atlases, connects mainline Interstate 77 with mainline U.S. 52. A 5.7-mile section of Interstate 74 (Interstate 77/U.S. 52 connector) from west of N.C. 89 to west of U.S. 601 in Surry County was opened on July 16, 1998. Together with existing North Carolina State Route 752, the new corridor connects Interstate 77 with U.S. 52.

During 1998 and 1999, the future routing of Interstate 74 along former State Route 752 and U.S. 52 had "Future Interstate 74" shields on it. John Lansford writes, "It's a political process. NCDOT has to petition FHWA to allow the 'Future Interstate 74' signs to go up on a route that isn't complete yet, and show that the road is Interstate or near Interstate condition. If the road doesn't quite meet Interstate standards, then the DOT has to show that a project to bring it up to those standards is scheduled in the near future. Certain features MUST be to Interstate standards before FHWA will allow the 'Future' signs to go up in the first place."

Interstate 74 will follow U.S. 52 southeast toward Winston-Salem. At a point just past Stanleyville, Interstate 74 will break off from U.S. 52 and follow the proposed Winston-Salem beltway around the west side of the city. Then Interstate 74 will go southeast past U.S. 52 to U.S. 311.

In the August 12, 1998, issue of Triangle Business Journal includes an article on the new Interstates in a special tourism section. According to James Kilbourne, this article indicates that "a 15-mile segment [of U.S. 52] in Mount Airy got its shield at the end of July" (TBJ, Aug. 21, 1998, page 32). This article quotes extensively from Larry Sams, assistant to the state highway administrator at NCDOT, and Don Volker, assistant division administrator in NC for the Federal Highway Administration. The article did not give the start and end points for the shielding, nor does it indicate if the exit numbers have changed.

Interstate 74 will follow the proposed U.S. 311 Bypass around High Point, then head southeast out of High Point to meet Interstate 73 and U.S. 220 north of Asheboro. The bypass around High Point opened as far as Business Loop I-85/U.S. 29-70 signed as Bypass U.S. 311 in 2005. This road will be incorporated into Interstate 74 at a future date.

At Asheboro, Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 will meet. Correspondents for m.t.r state that Interstate 73/74 signs have gone up on the new section of U.S. 220 between Ulah and Ether as of May, 1997. (See the picture at the top of the page). Interstate 73/74 will follow U.S. 220 south to Rockingham, then Interstate 74 will turn east via U.S. 74. Now this presents a problem: North Carolina is a state that does not allow route number duplication, so how will it handle the duplication of two very important routes (U.S. 74 and Interstate 74) that overlay each other? Adam Prince reports on his All Things NC! web page that some future Interstate 74 shields are already in place near Laurinburg along U.S. 74. These future shields are still in place, unlike the new "real" Interstate 74 shields along the Rockingham bypass.

According to the Courier-Tribune article, "Interstate segment to open Nov. 28" by Mary Anderson, the Rockingham Bypass section of Interstate 74 opened on November 28, 2000, according to G.R. Kindley, District 8 Highway Commissioner. This had been signed as "Future I-74" up until that date. The bypass is now co-signed as Interstate 74 and U.S. 74. This was corroborated by a press release from NCDOT dated November 28, 2000, which indicated that the ribbon cutting for the new Interstate 74 was on that day.

At Chadbourn, at the current intersection of U.S. 74 and U.S. 76, Interstate 74 will meet a proposed easterly extension of Interstate 20. Interstate 20, planned to be extended from Florence, South Carolina, east to Wilmington, North Carolina, would overlap with Interstate 74 between Chadbourne and Bolton via Whiteville. The governor of North Carolina introduced the new routing of Interstate 20 and Interstate 74 in his Strategic Transportation Plan for Southeastern North Carolina on May 5, 2003.

Interstates 20 and 74 would follow U.S. 74-76 east to Whiteville, then continue on via U.S. 74-76 due east to Bolton. Interstate 20 will continue east from this point into Wilmington, and Interstate 74 would turn south along North Carolina 211 toward Myrtle Beach. Both the extension of Interstate 20 into Wilmington and the extension of Interstate 74 along North Carolina 211 are part of Corridor 5.

Interstate 20 would follow U.S. 74-76 east to Wilmington, ending at its junction with Interstate 140, the proposed new Interstate bypass route for U.S. 17. Interstate 140 is planned for completion in 2005, and it will provide a 14.5-mile bypass from U.S. 17 at the Pender County line south to U.S. 421, then onward to U.S. 17 near Bishop in Brunswick County. Both Interstates 20 and 40 would terminate in Wilmington, and there would be no Interstate route leading south from Wilmington to Myrtle Beach.

Meanwhile, Interstate 74 would head due south along North Carolina 211, then turn southwest at its intersection with U.S. 17. Interstate 74 would parallel U.S. 17 as it enters South Carolina, and the freeway would then tie into the Carolina Bays Parkway (South Carolina 31).

More on North Carolina Interstate 74 is available at Interstate 74 Progress Page (Bob Malme) and NCRoads.com (Matt Steffora).

South Carolina

NHS legislation has Interstate 74 heading southwest from the state line to Charleston, with no routes specified. The TEA-21 legislation shortens Interstate 73's route so that it terminates in Georgetown rather than Charleston, so the current proposed southeasterly terminus for Interstate 74 would be alongside Interstate 73 in Georgetown.

Plans have developed since the NHS legislation was passed. Interstate 74 will leave North Carolina via U.S. 17 to Georgetown via the Waccamaw Neck. The Interstate will follow South Carolina 31 (Carolina Bays Parkway) to meet Interstate 73 again at the interchange between South Carolina 31 and South Carolina 22 (Conway Bypass). Interstates 73 and 74 would again merge a final time, following South Carolina 31 and U.S. 17 to a southeasterly terminus at Georgetown. The ISTEA/NHS legislation indicated that Interstate 73/74 would have continued southwest into Charleston, but that has since been removed from the legislation (per the TEA-21 law passed in 1998).

The Interstate 2000 Program

The article "Interstate 2000: Improvement for the Next Millenium," which appears in the journal Roads & Bridges on June 1, 1997, lists what the writers feel should be planned links to the interstate highway system. The descriptions are:

Interstate 73 -- Columbus to Detroit: Columbus has been one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the midwest over the past 40 years. A more direct connection between Columbus and Detroit would be provided by this route, which would follow U.S. 23 from Columbus to the Findlay, Ohio, area, where it would connect with Interstate 75. Approximately 75 miles of construction and upgrade would be necessary. The connection to Detroit would continue along the existing Interstate 75.

Interstate 74 -- Cincinnati to Washington-Baltimore: This route would provide a much needed alternative to heavily traveled Interstate 70 from the midwest to the Washington/Baltimore area, while cutting the interstate distance between Cincinnati and Washington/Baltimore by 10%. Approximately 275 miles of construction and upgrades would be required.

Isn't that interesting? First, these descriptions show Interstate 73 connecting to Interstate 75 near Findlay, Ohio, an idea that ODOT officials seem to have discarded in favor of following U.S. 23 to Toledo. Notice that no other portion of Interstate 73 (even the fabled section in North Carolina) is mentioned here.

Then, I guess the Roads & Bridges folks weren't aware that Interstate 74 has quite a different destination in the NHS Legislation. Specifically, Interstate 74 isn't going to Washington, D.C. It's going to Charleston, South Carolina, do or die. Interstate 74 will provide a link to Portsmouth, Ohio; from there eastward, it would have to be part of an extended Interstate 68 to bypass Interstate 70 to the south. We'll see about that one ....

Funding for the Interstate 73/74 Corridor

Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 are blessed with many appropriations. Here's a list for you, right from the legislation itself:

  • High Priority Corridor Appropriation Item 10: $4.5 million for the Shawnee Project from Three Corner Junction, W.V., to Interstate 77.
  • High Priority Corridor Appropriation Item 11: $100 million for the widening of U.S. 52 from Huntington to Williamson, W.V.
  • High Priority Corridor Appropriation Item 12: $14 million for the replacement of U.S. 52 from Williamson to Interstate 77.
  • Innovative Projects Item 29: $5.9 million for the construction of a six-mile, four-lane highway to demonstrate methods of facilitating public and private participation in intelligent transportation systems (ITS). This is in Blacksburg (Montgomery County), Virginia.
  • Innovative Project Item 197: $37 million for the design and initial construction of a new Interstate 280 bridge over the Maumee River that will replace Craig Memorial Bridge. It is possible that this may become part of Interstate 73 (its definitive routing through Ohio has not yet been decided for sure).
  • Section 1069 (Miscellaneous Highway Project Authorization): Item (z) indicates that the federal government will pay 80% of the cost of replacing and upgrading U.S. 52 in West Virginia.

Page Updated July 31, 2005.