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I-20 to Wilmington Idea being Revived?

I was sent the above title link from a contact in the Myrtle Beach area. It was about information in a question and answer column that says there's been a revival of talks from local officials about bringing I-20 to Wilmington. Since SC has been against upgrading US 76, the new proposal would send I-20 north on I-95 to I-74 near Lumberton then east on an upgraded US 74, so SC wouldn't have to do anything but put up a few signs:

"Transportation planners say connecting Atlanta with Wilmington with one interstate number (I-20) would create the perception that it's easy to travel between the two cities, even if no new roads are built. That could help the N.C. State Ports Authority - and perhaps other businesses in the region - by allowing it to market the fact that two interstates serve the Wilmington area. A great deal of ocean cargo to and from Atlanta goes to ports in Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., both of which have limited capacity.

The idea would be to add the I-20 designation from Interstate 95 in Florence to its intersection with [I-74/]U.S. 74 near Lumberton, just by adding I-20 signs. Then, I-20 could run concurrently with U.S. 74 into the Wilmington area.

U.S. 74 would have to be upgraded to interstate standards, making it I-74. But that would be expensive. All of the at-grade intersections on U.S. 74 would either have to be closed or modified by creating interchanges or flyovers.

There's also concern about the fact that heavier trucks are allowed on U.S. highways than on interstates, so converting U.S. 74 to I-74 could affect some truck traffic.

A movement has begun on the local level to encourage the N.C. Department of Transportation to begin discussions about the I-20 idea with the S.C. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration."

For the entire article, click the blog title. The I-20 question is about halfway down.

Commentary: Apparently having I-20 go to Wilmington is more sexy to Wilmington officials than I-74 (hey 2 major interstates (I-20, I-40) end in our city, we have to be important). They may also be assuming that I-74 is still going to Myrtle Beach, as planned in former Governor Easley's SE Transportation initiative. However, there is a new administration and a new effort at NCDOT to prioritize road projects. Currently, there are two unfunded interstate projects in SE NC on the table: Upgrading US 74-76 to Interstate standards from Whiteville to Wilmington, estimated in 2001 to cost $160 million (obviously, more now) and the building of I-74 from Whiteville to the SC border, estimated in 2005 to cost $641 million, and deemed not viable as a toll road by the NC Turnpike Authority. Which project do you think would be the higher priority? It certainly makes more sense then financially to send an interstate to Wilmington, the question what number would be on the shield?

I don't know if bringing US 74 up to interstate standards is as hard or expensive as the columnist suggests. Currently, NCDOT has already 3 projects funded to start next year or already underway to upgrade at-grade intersections on US 74 between NC 41 and NC 211. They are holding a public hearing in a couple weeks about closing off another intersection near the western junction with US 76. If Google maps are correct this leaves only about 5 other intersections to deal with between Lumberton and Whiteville, including an interchange(s) with NC 72 and NC 130. There are certainly more issues between Whiteville and I-140 in Wilmington, but the section of I-140 that would intersect US 74/76 is to be built next and upgrading of US 74/76 around the interchange is undoubtedly part of that project. The overall question then is if the upgrading of US 74 east of I-95 to Wilmington to an interstate is assured to happen some time in the future. Is it worth that much more to the economy to have this route signed as (or with) I-20 than just as I-74?

Comments

llnesinthesand said…
The idea of bringing I-20 to Wilmington is pretty exciting, but the details of the plan are not.

In reality, this plan would do nothing to improve traffic flowing from Wilmington to the west or south since existing highways will be used for the project. With the exception of a few stop lights, US-74 over to I-95 is a pretty smooth drive. How much time will upgrading this highway really save travelers?

The thought of bringing I-20 into Wilmington is only exciting if it takes a more direct route into town. There is no point to the I-20 extension unless South Carolina would cooperate and implement the more logical route. As for perception, does Joe 6-pack traveler really care that Wilmington is served by I-20 if he will essentially be driving the same highways he drives today?
Anonymous said…
I too have hard time seeing this happen. SC's just not going to do anything to make it easier for people to get to NC & bypass Myrtle Beach.
Adam said…
This is really only a proposal to attract more traffic to the Port of Wilmington. They are hoping that a single interstate direct connection from Wilmington to Atlanta will attract more ships.

Well until the Cape Fear Skyway is built truck traffic will still have to go through downtown Wilmington regardless.
brianbaker27529 said…
It doesn't matter if Wilmington has 2 or 20 Interstate routes that terminate there, with respect to increasing cargo traffic at the port. I-40 ends several miles north of the shipping terminal. I-20 or I-74 or I-whatever will end several miles to the west. Truck traffic leaving the port westbound or northbound still has to negotiate surface streets to get to a freeway. If they want to steer more ships to Wilmington reroute 40 onto a new road to the east that would terminate at the port entrance, or extend 20 from 140 to the port on new freeway that would cut across Wilmington from west to east and also end at the port entrance. That gets the trucks in and out of town faster. Of course neither of these ideas will become reality because of cost or lack of will on the part of NCDOT or opposition from NIMBYs who dont want their house bulldozed for a freeway.

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