Interstate 26 runs 55 miles overall through eastern Tennessee alongside U.S. 23 from Sams Gap to U.S. 11W (W Stone Drive) at Kingsport. U.S. 23 extends the freeway north two miles from U.S. 11W to the Virginia state line. U.S. 19W overlaps with Interstate 26 north from Erwin through Johnson City to U.S. 11E.

Throughout eastern Tennessee, Interstate 26 and U.S. 23 are known as the James H. Quillen Parkway. Named in honor of the region's long-time U.S. House of Representatives member (1963 to 1997) who died on November 2, 2003 (shortly after the opening of Interstate 26),1 Interstate 26 is part of Appalachian Regional Development Corridor B, which connects Asheville, North Carolina, with Columbus, Ohio. While the corridor is upgraded to Interstate standards from Asheville to Kingsport, there are no short-term or mid-range plans to extend Interstate 26 north of Kingsport to Ohio.

Interstate 26 Tennessee Guides

Construction of Interstate 26 took place in phases: former Interstate 181 was completed and opened in 1985; the section from the Sams Gap and the North Carolina State Line north to Johnson City fully opened on July 6, 1995; and the section from Mars Hill, North Carolina, to Sams Gap opened on August 5, 2003. With all these segments complete, Interstate 26 was extended north from Asheville to the cloverleaf interchange with I-81.

I-26 overtook the southern half of Interstate 181 between U.S. 321 and I-81. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) approved a second extension of Interstate 26 northward over the remaining nine miles of I-181 on August 5, 2005. This extension was sought by the city of Kingsport. Turned down in June 2003, a previous proposal outlined renumbering I-181 as Interstate 126.

Remaining references of Interstate 181 were replaced in eastern Tennessee by March 2007. The sign changes accompanied the renumbering of all exits to reference the western end of Interstate 26 at Kingsport. Milepost zero within the exchange joining I-26/U.S. 23 with U.S. 11W in Kingsport.

When Interstate 26 replaced I-181, exit numbers were renumbered to increase from north to south:

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 I-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. 08/23/03
Boones Creek Road west at the I-26/U.S. 23 southbound on-ramp. The original I-181 shield was replaced with an I-26 shield. Since Interstate 181 was signed north-south, an East placard was added for then newly designated I-26. 08/23/03
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A welcome center and rest area lie just off I-26/U.S. 23 at Exit 46 for Clear Branch Road. 10/25/15


Photo Credits:

    08/23/03 by AARoads and Justin Cozart. 10/25/15 by AARoads.

Connect with:
Interstate 81
U.S. 321

Page Updated 08-25-2020.

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