On August 5, 2003, Interstate 26 saw extension from the city of Asheville, North Carolina to the Tri-Cities region of northeastern Tennessee. The lengthening overtook U.S. 23 and friends from Asheville northward to Mars Hill, North Carolina. From there a new alignment travels west of existing U.S. 23 to the Tennessee state line at Sams Gap. U.S. 23 rejoins Interstate 26 to the north with both sharing pavement northward to Erwin. At Erwin U.S. 19W ties in for an overlap through Johnson City to U.S. 11E. The extension of Interstate 26 overtook the original Interstate 181 routing from U.S. 321 northward initially to Interstate 81. On August 5, 2005, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved a second extension of Interstate 26 northward over the final nine mile segment of Interstate 181. This extends Interstate 26, 55 miles from the state line northward through Kingsport toward the Virginia state line.

The extension of Interstate 26 beyond Interstate 81 was sought by the city of Kingsport. An earlier proposal would have renumbered Interstate 181 into Interstate 126, but that was turned down in June of 2003. By March of 2007, all references to Interstate 181 were replaced in eastern Tennessee. The sign changes accompany a complete renumbering of the freeway interchanges to a mile based system starting at the western (northern) terminus. Since technically Interstate 26 travels east/west, milepost zero lies at the U.S. 11W interchange at Kingsport.

Interstate 26 Tennessee Highway Guides

When Interstate 26 replaced Interstate 81, exit numbers were renumbered to count from north to south. This table compares the two sets:

I-26 Exit Number U.S. 23 Exit Number Intersecting Road
1 55 U.S. 11W (Stone Drive)
3 52 Meadow View Parkway
51A SR 93 South
4B 51B SR 93 North (Wilcox Dr)
6 49 SR 347 (Rock Spring Road)
8B 46A Interstate 81 North Bristol
8A 46B Interstate 81 South Knoxville
10 45 Eastern Star Road
13 42 SR 75 Gray (Bobby Hicks Highway)
17 38 SR 354 Boones Creek
19 36 SR 381 (State of Franklin Rd )
U.S. 11E & 19W (North Roan Street)
22 33 SR 400 (Unaka / Watauga Avenues)
23 32 SR 91 (Market Street)
24 31 U.S. 321 Elizabethton
27 28 SR 359 (N Okalona Road)
32 23 SR 173 (Unicoi Road)
34 21 Tinker Road
36 19 Main Street Erwin
37 18 SR 81 / SR 107 Erwin-Jonesborough
40 15 Jackson-Love Highway
43 12 U.S. 19W / SR 352 (Temple Hill Road)
46 9 Clear Branch Road
50 5 Flag Pond Road

Interstate 26 scenes
Boones Creek Road (SR 354) east at the entrance ramp to Interstate 26 & U.S. 23 north at Exit 17. Rather than replacing the I-181 shield initially, TDOT added an I-26 shield. Several Interstate 181 shields south of I-81 remained posted through late August 2003. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Boones Creek Road west at the Interstate 26 & U.S. 23 southbound on-ramp. The original I-181 shield was simply replaced with an Interstate 26 shield. Since Interstate 181 was signed north-south, an East placard was added for then newly designated I-26. Photo taken 08/23/03.

Photo Credits:

08/23/03 by AARoads and Justin Cozart

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Page Updated 10-22-2011.