Starting in the vastness of western Texas, then emerging in the southeastern states as a major highway through several metropolitan areas, Interstate 20 provides an east-west connection through the northern tier of the Deep South states. It originates in West Texas and passes through the Dallas-Forth Worth area en route to Shreveport, Birmingham, Atlanta and Columbia before culminating in Florence, South Carolina.
Interstate 20 begins humbly at a split from I-10 near Kent, Texas, but not near any cities or urban areas. The westernmost section of Interstate 20 travels through some sparsely populated, isolated terrain, which resulted in the 2006 enactment of an 80 miles-per-hour speed limit along an 89-mile stretch between IH 10 and Monahans.
This section of Interstate 20 serves mid-sized Lone Star communities such as Midland, Odessa and Abilene. The highway acts at the main conduit between the West Coast and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. There Interstate 20 bypasses both cities to the south, overriding portions of original alignments of Interstate 820 and Interstate 635 respectively. Interstate 30, beginning at I-20 west of Fort Worth, facilitates movements into Downtown and to Dallas by way of the original Dallas Fort-Worth Turnpike. Interstate 820, the first branch of I-20 from the west, constitutes a belt route around the west, north, and east side of Fort Worth as well.
East from Fort Worth, I-20 varies between six and eight lanes as it travels through cities such as Arlington, Grand Prairie and Duncanville to south Dallas. Leaving Dallas, the freeway passes through Mesquite where it transitions from urban to rural environs as it enters the vast Piney Woods region of East Texas. A spectacular view of the Dallas cityscape is offered to motorists entering the metropolitan area westbound along this stretch. Otherwise through the Piney Woods, Interstate 20 serves the cities of Tyler, Longview and Marshall to the state line.
Upon entering the Pelican State of Louisiana, Interstate 20 encounters the Shreveport metropolitan area of Caddo Parish. A second freeway loop in the form of Interstate 220 exists, facilitating through traffic around the north side of the city. I-20 meanwhile intersects the current north end of Interstate 49 in dramatic fashion with a multi-level stack interchange. The freeway cuts through the central business district of Louisiana’s third largest city from there.
East of Shreveport, Interstate 20 passes by the sprawling Barksdale A.F.B. as it again enters rural landscapes. It is not until the east-west freeway reaches the city of Monroe that the scenery changes. Here lies the busiest stretch of highway between Dallas and Jackson. Monroe was also the location of a second planned bypass route of I-20, defunct Interstate 420.2 At the Mississippi River, Interstate 20 departs Louisiana for Vicksburg, Mississippi via a four-lane cantilever bridge.
Vicksburg is a city rich in Civil War history. For Interstate 20, it is the entrance into the Deep South and the first of three urban centers the route encounters in the Magnolia State. 40 miles separate the western city with the capital of Jackson. Jackson is the largest urban area of the state, and I-20 expands there to six to eight lanes as it overlaps with U.S. 49 and Interstate 55 through the southern reaches of the city. The overlap with I-55 ends at “The Stack”, a three-level interchange nicknamed for its flyovers. The moniker applies because Mississippi has few other stack interchanges (though the Interstate 220 northern terminus is also a tri-level stack). U.S. 49 ties into the directional-T interchange with I-55 via flyovers constructed as part of a three-year project to upgrade “The Stack” between 2003 and 2006.1
I-220 comprises the third urban loop of Interstate 20. The north-south freeway carries U.S. 49 northward to an exit of the city and Yazoo City before it concludes at I-55. The metropolitan area spreads eastward along the I-20 and U.S. 80 corridors. The suburbs of Pearl and Brandon provide the freeway with a highly suburban feel. East of Exit 59, Interstate 20 returns to forested environs.
The last urban center Interstate 20 sees in Mississippi is Meridian. Here the freeway begins the lengthy overlap with Interstate 59. I-59 is the conduit from New Orleans and Houston to Birmingham and Nashville, and thus adds a substantial amount of traffic to Interstate 20. The two highways additionally add U.S. 11-80 and Mississippi 19 to form a five-way overlap through the urban area. Downtown Meridian is situated to the north of the narrow east-west freeway.
Entering the state of Alabama, Interstates 20 & 59 travel to Cuba, Alabama 8 and the western reaches of High Priority Corridor 6, a federally mandated corridor between Meridian and Savannah, Georgia by way of U.S. 80. The corridor doubles as the planned extension of Interstate 85. If completed, I-85 will vastly upgrade U.S. 80 to freeway standards west from its current terminus in Montgomery to Interstates 20 & 59.
Otherwise Interstates 20 & 59 travel northeast from the state line to Tuscaloosa, home to the University of Alabama. Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa has a capacity of over 100,000 as of 2010, and during Crimson Tide home games traffic congestion arises along Interstates 20 & 59 . Interstate 359 represents an urban spur to both the central business district and the University of Alabama campus while I-20 & 59 skirt the urban area to the south while expanding to six overall lanes.
Continuing northeast toward Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, Interstates 20 & 59 maintain six lanes and see an increasing amount of traffic. For the burgeoning metropolitan area of Birmingham and Jefferson County, Interstate 459 provides a bypass for through travel interests around the city for points north and east. While the southwest suburb of Bessemer is older and more industrial based, the metro area saw massive growth in Shelby County via I-65 south and to the southeast by way of U.S. 280. This adds commuter traffic to I-459, with the majority of the loop expanded to six lanes. Staying north through the highly urbanized area, I-20 & 59 continue northeast toward Interstate 65 and the locally named “Malfunction Junction”. The nickname of the interchange with I-65 is derived from the left-hand ramps linking the two routes and roadway reversal of both freeways through the exchange.
Downtown Birmingham lies south of a viaduct along Interstates 20 & 59 and north of Red Mountain. A four-year project replaces the aging six-lane viaduct to 2019. A short distance east of there by is the split of I-59 north from I-20 east. The 154-mile overlap concludes at a trumpet interchange (Exit 130) south of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM).
Interstate 20 turns briefly southeast, cutting across Red Mountain as it heads through the eastern suburb of Irondale and over Shades Mountain. A symmetrical stack interchange lines this stretch with Interstate 459. Another 11 miles of built-up areas buffer Interstate 20 before the highway leaves the metropolitan area beyond Leeds and Moody.
West End – near Kent, TX
South End – Florence, SC
Branch Routes – 4
Total Mileage – 1,539.38
Texas – 636.08
- Cities – Pecos, Monohans, Odessa, Midland, Big Spring, Colorado City, Sweetwater, Abilene, Fort Worth, Dallas, Longview, Marshall
- Junctions –
Louisiana – 189.87
- Cities – Shreveport, Bossier City, Minden, Ruston, Monroe, Tallulah
- Junctions –
Mississippi – 154.61*
Cities – Vicksburg, Jackson, Meridian
- Junctions –
Alabama – 214.70#
Cities – Tuscaloosa, Bessemer, Birmingham, Anniston
- Junctions –
Georgia – 202.61
Cities – Atlanta, Covington, Thomson, Augusta
- Junctions –
South Carolina – 141.51
Cities – North Augusta, Columbia, Camden, Florence
- Junctions –
Source: December 31, 2018 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
* – 1.60 miles on I-55 and 23.60 miles on I-59, # – 130.10 miles on I-59
I-20 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)
|Location||Vehicles per day|
|Shreveport, LA||64,654 (2001)|
|Monroe, LA||90,210 (2001)|
|Waverly, LA||19,283 (2000)|
Source: Louisiana Traffic Volume Monitoring (LADOTD)
A short portion of Interstate 20 was open to traffic in Mississippi by 1967. With the exception of through Meridian, the freeway ran east from Mississippi 15 (Exit 109) near Newton to U.S. 11 & 80 (Exit 169) at Kewanee. Subsequent sections were opened in 1968 from Meridian west to Pearl and in 1970 on the south side of Jackson.
The overlap of Interstates 20 & 59 through Meridian was not completed until the mid-1970s.6
The original configuration of the Capitol Hill Interchange between Interstate 20 and Interstates 75 & 85 (Downtown Connector) in Atlanta utilized a number of left-hand ramps. This exchange was redesigned into a three-level interchange as part of the “Freeing the Freeways” megaproject between 1985 and November 1988.
East from Karr Gap, Interstate 20 returns to rural scenery, albeit this time across the Appalachian piedmont. The freeway lines northern reaches of Talladega Superspeedway, a 2.66-mile NASCAR track, east of the Coosa River and west of Anniston. The city of Anniston has the dubious honor of being well-known for being home to the Anniston Army Depot, home to various weapons of mass destruction including that of sarin gas. I-20 passes south of Anniston through the city of Oxford at Exits 179, 185 and 188.
Not long after entering the Peach State, Interstate 20 enters the sprawling Atlanta metropolitan area. The freeway quickly expands to six, then eight, then ten… to an ultimate expansion of 16 lanes. Although the western interchange with Interstate 285 is vastly substandard, Interstate 20 is quite modern as it travels through the city limits of Atlanta. A compact interchange welcomes I-20 motorists to the central business district and Interstate 75 and 85 overlap, the Downtown Connector. The skyline of Atlanta is nothing short of spectacular. Views from Interstate 20 include the skyscrapers and Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves Baseball franchise from 1997-2016, to the southeast. A few curves guide motorists eastward out of the city into Dekalb County and the east junction with the Perimeter Highway. A second cancelled Interstate 420 was to have tied into the I-20 mainline on this curved portion. The south urban loop was slated to incorporate Georgia 166 (Lakewood Freeway / Langford Parkway) into its overall route.
26 miles east of Interstate 285 at Covington, Interstate 20 reduces from six to four lanes as it departs the Atlanta metropolitan area. For the next 150 miles, pine forest and widely spaced interchanges is the norm for east-west motorists. This landscape persists to Exit 190, where the Augusta urban area quickly begins. The final branch of I-20 follows at Exit 195. Interstate 520 (Bobby Jones Expressway) arcs to the south and east around the city of Augusta, serving western reaches of the suburban area and industrial areas to the south. The freeway ended ahead of the Savannah River until 2004, when the first of two extensions lengthened the route into South Carolina. A full loop was made of I-520 when it was completed north to I-20 at Exit 6 on December 16, 2009.
Once across the Savannah River, Interstate 20 enters the Palmetto State. The 141-mile route across South Carolina is designated the Strom Thurman Freeway, named after James Strom Thurman (1902-2003), S.C. member of the U.S. Senate from 1954 until his death in 2003. The persistant landscape of pine forest along I-20 between Atlanta and Augusta essentially continues east from North Augusta, South Carolina. Elevation changes offer some differentiation to Lexington, where suburbia takes over. The freeway expands to six lanes at Exit 61 ahead of St. Andrews and the north side of Columbia. A second “Malfunction Junction” along I-20 lies northwest of the capital city at Interstate 26. A substandard cloverleaf interchange facilitates movement between the two freeways just north of the I-26 split with I-126 east toward Downtown Columbia, adding to the mix of weaving traffic and sudden lane changes.
Together I-20 to the north and I-26 to west form two thirds of the Columbia Beltway system, with I-77 (Southeastern Beltway) rounding out the loop. A pervasive interchange with various flyovers joins Interstate 77 with I-20 and adjacent Alpine Road near Fort Jackson to the northeast of the city. East of there, I-20 was expanded to six lanes in 2014, as suburban expansion lines U.S. 1 east to Pontiac and Exit 82.
Leaving central South Carolina, the final 60 miles of Interstate 20 traverse a mixture of pine forest, agricultural areas and wetlands. The freeway avoids the main population centers along this stretch, and lower traffic counts reflect this. At Florence, Interstate 20 concludes at a three-quarter cloverleaf interchange, with directional ramps linking I-20 east with Interstate 95 north and I-95 south with I-20 west. The freeway mainline here defaults onto Business Spur I-20 east. This business route represents the only such occurrence where an Interstate highway ends as a Business route of itself. The city of Florence spreads to the east of I-95, with two shopping malls and other assorted retail linking Business Spur I-20 (David H. McLeod Boulevard) to its end at U.S. 76. Florence is also the only urban area of any consequence along the Interstate 95 corridor in South Carolina.
Some have wondered why Interstate 20 ends in an isolated part of West Texas rather than overlap with Interstate 10 and connection to the west coast (perhaps via I-8 or I-10 west of Casa Grande, Arizona). This did not occur due to the significant mileage of dually-signed freeway. Therefore, Interstate 20 is not a coast-to-coast route.
Interstate 20 & 59 separates Downtown Birmingham, Alabama from the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex along a six-lane viaduct completed in 1971. The aging roadway was designed to accommodate 80,000 vehicles per day (vpd) but instead carries 160,000 vpd. Deterioration of the elevated road, including the formation of large potholes, led to an estimated $150 million plan by ALDOT to replace the bridge decks on top of the existing foundations. The City of Birmingham and Jefferson County asked ALDOT in 2012 to instead consider replacing the existing roadway with a new structure to improve aesthetics and reduce noise. Design improvements reviewed included wider shoulders, adding auxiliary lanes and reconfiguring the existing traffic pattern to reduce weaving.
Cultural impacts were cited by the city that the existing viaduct divided Downtown from neighborhood areas to the north. Therefore two scenarios were also studied by ALDOT to realign Interstates 20 and 59 further north onto the Finley Boulevard Corridor. The short route branched west from I-20 & 59 at Tallapoosa Street (Exit 128) 2.5 miles to Interstate 65 and then southward 1.3 miles along a widened (eight lanes) stretch of I-65. Estimated costs for the short route exceeded $1.5 billion with a 20 year plus time table. The long route took the same course west to I-65, but then further along Finley Boulevard to U.S. 78 north of the Burlington Northern Railroad Yard. It would involve the demolition of most businesses along Finley Boulevard, cost over $2 billion and take at least 28 years to complete. Both routes would run through minority or low-income areas, including the Enon Ridge and Fountain Heights communities. This is disapproved of by federal policy while another satisfactory route is available and would effect federal funding for either route along the Finley Corridor. Additionally superfund and historical sites in the Village Creek flood plain necessitated an elevated design, adding to costs.7
ALDOT instead committed $450 million to reconstruct the existing roadway. The I-59 / I-20 Bridge Replacement Project reconstructs the freeway with a new viaduct system traveling higher than their predecessors while accommodating ten overall lanes of traffic. A number of other changes will also take place, with new on and off-ramps, and flyovers joining I-65 with I-20 & 59 and the new 17th Street ramps to Downtown. A slide show showing renderings of the work is located here.
Phase One of the four-year project commenced in August 2015. The $7.4-million project includes widening sections of road and elevating bridges in preparation for the second and third phases.8 Phase Two, involving construction of the new exit ramps, is scheduled to start in spring 2016. Phase Three, with bids forecast by late 2016, entails tearing down the old viaduct and building the new roadway.
As part of the High Priority Corridor 5 project in South Carolina and North Carolina, a proposal for an easterly extension of Interstate 20 to Wilmington, North Carolina, was proposed by the governor of North Carolina as part of his Strategic Transportation Plan for Southeastern North Carolina on May 5, 2003. This extension would allow Interstate 20 to follow the route of U.S. 76 from Florence east to Wilmington.2
At Chadbourn, at the current intersection of U.S. 74 and U.S. 76, Interstate 20 would meet a proposed easterly extension of Interstate 74. Interstate 74, planned to be extended from Cincinnati, Ohio, southeast on a path roughly parallel to U.S. 52 and U.S. 220, would overlap with Interstate 20 between Chadbourn and Bolton via Whiteville.
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 High Priority Corridor 5.
Interstate 20 would follow U.S. 74-76 east to Wilmington, passing by proposed Interstate 140, the planned Interstate bypass route for U.S. 17. The first segment of 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 (with an eventual eastern extension from Bishop to U.S. 421 south of downtown Wilmington planned ultimately).
After Interstate 140, Interstate 20 would follow U.S. 17-74-76 and North Carolina 133 over the Brunswick and Cape Fear Rivers into downtown Wilmington. Interstate 20 could enter the city directly via U.S. 17-74-76, or it could turn north via U.S. 421 and then east via North Carolina 133 to enter from the north. There would be no direct connection to Interstate 40, which terminates at U.S. 117/North Carolina 132 northeast of Wilmington. The freeway connection to Interstate 40 would be via Interstate 140, which in turn would also connect to the U.S. 17 freeway, which is planned to be upgraded to freeway standards throughout the state. U.S. 17 would be the most direct route to Myrtle Beach to the south and Jacksonville to the north along U.S. 17.
There are some in South Carolina who have protested the notion that Interstate 20 should depart their state and enter North Carolina. Instead, some have suggested that Interstate 20 should continue southeast directly Myrtle Beach, perhaps via U.S. 76-301 and South Carolina 22. However, Future Interstate 73 is planned to provide for most of this route.
High Priority Corridor
Interstate 20 in Dallas County is part of High Priority Corridor 55: Dallas to Memphis via Little Rock.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Interstate 20 replaced U.S. 80 from IH 10 in West Texas to the east side of Dallas. The freeway parallels or overlaps with the remainder of the route east to Cuba, Alabama. There U.S. 11 accompanies I-20 & 59 northeast to Birmingham. U.S. 11 remains along side I-59 northward while U.S. 78 joins the I-20 corridor east to Atlanta.
U.S. 78 leaves I-20 for Stone Mountain while U.S. 278 takes over as the freeway companion to Augusta, Georgia. The east-west alignment of U.S. 1 starts in Augusta and takes the US route to Columbia and Camden parallel to Interstate 20. The final miles of the freeway leading into Florence do not parallel a US Highway.
In Texas, Interstate 20 was an original Interstate Highway, and it was initially approved by the Texas State Highway Commission in 1962 with 634 miles. Early maps showed Interstate 20 passing through Downtown Fort Worth and Dallas along the route currently occupied by Interstate 30; the route shifted once adequate funding for today’s Interstate 20 was made available from Interstate Highway Funds. Since the federal funding formula for new Interstate freeways allocated only a certain number of miles to each state, Texas leaders had to find innovative ways to construct an Interstate bypass of both areas to the south of each city. To that end, Texas repaid the federal government the small amount of money it contributed for Interstate 30, thereby reclaiming the mileage for use on Interstate 20.4 The final route for I-20, including those adjustments through Dallas-Fort Worth, was approved in 1971.5
Interstate 20 across the state of Georgia was constructed between August 1958 and November 1980.7 The western most section of I-20, from Villa Rica to the Alabama state line, opened to traffic on December 20, 1977.8
East End – Florence, South Carolina
West End – near Kent, Texas
- Metro Area Projects – Rankin County.
- Stephen Summers’s Interstate system route numbering page.
- North Carolina Department of Transportation Strategic Highway Planning Documents.
- “From Anywhere to Everywhere: The Development of the Interstate Highway System in Texas.”
http://tti.tamu.edu/interstate_anniversary/white_paper/Texas Transportation Institute, page 17.
- “From Anywhere to Everywhere: The Development of the Interstate Highway System in Texas.”
http://tti.tamu.edu/interstate_anniversary/white_paper/Texas Transportation Institute, page 29.
- Interstate Highway 59, Adam Froehlig.
- “Happy Birthday to the open road.” Gwinnett Daily Post (Lawrenceville, GA), June 25, 2006.
- “Completion near for interstate road systems,” Rome News-Tribune, November 14, 1977.
- “ALDOT director: Plan for I-20/59 bridges is best for Birmingham,” The Birmingham News, January 24, 2016.
- “ALDOT: Phase One of I-20/59 construction to begin in coming weeks,” WBRC (Birmingham, AL), July 29, 2015.
Page updated January 9, 2017.