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Interstate 26

Routing

Interstate 26 runs northerly from Charleston, South Carolina to a point just south of the Tennessee-Virginia State line near Kingsport. The route was twice extended from the original western terminus at Asheville, North Carolina, first in 2003 to I-81 and again in 2005 to U.S. 11W.

Interstate 26 begins in the Tri-Cities Region of Tennessee at U.S. 11W (West Stone Drive), which was the historic northern terminus of Interstate 181. I-26 overtook all of I-181 from Kingsport southward to Johnson City, and U.S. 23 from there to the North Carolina state line. This stretch includes a winding urban section through Johnson City, where U.S. 19W ties in from the northeast.

Angling southwest, I-26 & U.S. 19W-23 travel through a valley between the Buffalo and Little Mountains to Erwin. Beyond there, the freeway climbs in elevation from south of Rich Mountain along the 2003-opened alignment to the Bald Mountains and Sams Gap across the state line. Advancing southward, I-26 lowers through the Walnut Mountains to join an older stretch of freeway near Mars Hill.

U.S. 19 ties in from Radford Gap, joining I-26 & U.S. 23 between Flat Creek and Weaverville, where U.S. 25 & 70 merge on from the northwest. The five-way overlap concludes near Downtown Asheville, with U.S. 25 & 70 departing for Interstate 240 east and U.S. 19 & 23 parting ways beyond the French Broad River to western reaches of the city.

Interstates 26 & 240 combine for 4.2 miles through West Asheville to meet Interstate 40 near Sand Hill. This was the original western terminus of I-26. South from there, I-26 travels an older freeway to Hendersonville and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Beyond the split with U.S. 25 south, I-26 spans the Green River along the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge at a height of 225 feet. The freeway winds east from there to Howard Gap and Columbus before making its final approach to the Palmetto State at Landrum.

Interstate 26 follows a southeasterly path throughout South Carolina. The freeway straddles western reaches of Spartanburg through the Upstate. South from there, I-26 combines with the end of I-385 from Greenville to traverse Sumter National Forest on the drive to Columbia. Within the capital city area, I-26 expands to six lanes through to the "Malfunction Junction" cloverleaf interchange with I-20. Interstate 126 spurs east from nearby to Downtown while I-26 stays to the west by Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE).

Continuing southeast, Interstate 26 next meets the Orangeburg area before crossing paths with I-95 at a rural cloverleaf interchange. Pine forest gives way to suburbia as the route passes by Summerville to Goose Creek, North Charleston and the junction with Interstate 526. The final stretch winds I-26 through urban settings to U.S. 17 just north of Downtown Charleston.

Parallel/Historic U.S. Routes

Interstate 26 parallels several U.S. routes on its journey from the Tri-Cities area in Tennessee southeast to Charleston, as follows:

  • Tri-Cities Area south to Asheville - U.S. 23
  • Asheville south to Flat Rock - U.S. 25
  • Flat Rock southeast to Spartanburg - U.S. 176
  • Spartanburg south to Clinton - U.S. 221
  • Clinton southeast to Columbia - U.S. 76
  • Columbia southeast to Goose Creek - U.S. 176
  • Goose Creek southeast to Charleston - U.S. 52 and 78

Future Aspirations

The 1960s-built freeway for I-26 between Mars Hill and Rice Bend is substandard and will remain signed as "Future Interstate 26" until upgrades are made. Additionally the interchange where Interstates 26 and 240 combine near Downtown involves sharp curves and single lane ramps. Adding to the traffic congestion here are the over capacity Smoky Park Bridges across the French Broad River. A new facility, the Interstate 26 Connector, will be built to meet 2025 forecast traffic counts.4

Interstate 26/240 @ the Smoky Park Bridges

The Smoky Park Bridges carry eight overall lanes of traffic, with auxiliary lanes running in each direction between Westgate Parkway / Patton Avenue and the Downtown interchange. The substandard bridges have no shoulders. Photo taken August 23, 2003.

The I-26 Connector involves three separate segments: Section A involves upgrading 4.3 miles of Interstates 26 & 240 from the junction with I-40 to the Patten Avenue interchange, west of the French Broad River. Second B includes improvements to the interchange between Interstates 26-40-240 and the adjacent Brevard Road (NC 191) exit on I-40. Section C entails construction of 2.6 miles of new facility and bridge across the French Broad River for I-26 between the Patton Avenue interchange and the existing freeway south of Broadway Street.

The Interstate 26 Connector Project was delayed in April 2005 with the release of the state comprehensive transportation plan. This plan pushed the completion date of the Interstate 26 Connector Project back to 2012.6 Subsequent delays followed and now the connector start date is 2020.

History

The entire length of Interstate 26 in South Carolina was dedicated at a ceremony in Columbia on March 10, 1969.8

First planned in 1987, the extension of Interstate 26 northward from Asheville to Interstates 81 & 181 near Fordtown, Tennessee allowed truck traffic that was banned on U.S. 19 & 23 a more efficient method to access I-81 to the north.1 The new nine-mile six-lane freeway opened from Mars Hill to the Tennessee state line on Tuesday August 5, 2003. Rising to a height of 4,000 feet above sea level,2 the final segment replaced a narrow 11-mile segment of U.S. 23 from Sams Gap southward to Mars Hill.1

Taking seven years to complete at a cost of $230 million, the Mars Hill to Sams Gap segment of Interstate 26 has no more than a six percent grade as compared to a nine percent grade on the old U.S. 23 routing. The roadway features a 215-foot tall bridge, high enough in the mountains to where engineers installed a de-icing system that can be activated by telephone. Additionally a fog detection system with warning lights was incorporated into the route as are three runaway truck ramps. Eighty percent of the funds to build the I-26 extension was derived from the Appalachian Regional Commission.3

It was hoped that in addition to providing a new truck route to I-81, that the extended Interstate 26 would enhance the local economies of the counties between Asheville and the Tri-Cities Region of Tennessee. Projections forecast a tripling of the traffic count at the state line by the year 2010, with up to 16,000 vehicles per day (vpd) predicted. TDOT traffic counts in 2014 however totaled just 7,430 vpd, down from 8,774 vpd recorded in 2010.

Interstate 26 north of Asheville was designated a Scenic Byway by the state of North Carolina. It was the first such Interstate in the Tarheel State to receive this distinction. On a clear day it is reported that one can see Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak of the Appalachian Mountain chain at 6,684 feet. Two scenic overlooks and a welcome center at the state line were constructed to enhance travelers' experience when taking I-26.3

Efforts from local leaders in the city of Kingsport from 2003 through 2005 sought to extend Interstate 26 further through to the Virginia state line near Morrison City. The local chamber of commerce and other officials lobbied their congressional delegation and state legislators successfully in an effort to boost the local economy. The extension received official approval on August 2, 2005 as announced by U.S. Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Representative Bill Jenkins (R-TN) as part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) highway bill.7

The 2005-approved extension of the I-26 mainline superseded the alternate plan to renumber the remainder of Interstate 181 as "Interstate 126." However, with Tennessee State Secondary 126 routed nearby, that plan never came to fruition due to the potential confusion of two similar numbers placed so closely.2

Highway Guides

Western Terminus - U.S. 11W - Kingsport, Tennessee
Perspective from Interstate 26 west & U.S. 23 north
The northern reaches of Kingsport on the hillside, Interstate 26 west and U.S. 23 northbound descend to their river crossing of the North Fork of the Holston River. The Interstate designation comes to an end in one mile at former Exit 55/U.S. 11W and Tennessee 1. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Summertime view of the final Interstate 26 interchange and terminus. Beyond the freeway end, U.S. 23 travels into Scott County Virginia to intersect with U.S. 58-421. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Traffic to U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1/West Stone Drive departs as U.S. 23 continues solo northward to Norton, Virginia and Pikeville, Kentucky. U.S. 11W sees an interchange nearby with Tennessee State Secondary 36/Lynn Garden Drive. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
A second view of former Exit 55 along Interstate 26 westbound. Exit numbers along the newly designated stretch of Interstate 26 may change by the end of 2005. U.S. 11W is a divided arterial highway serving the tri-cities of Kingsport and Bristol. The northern terminus of the route is not far to the northeast at Virginia 381 in Bristol, Virginia. Photo taken 08/23/03.
End of the U.S. 23 freeway approaching the Virginia state line. Former Exit 57 is the final exit with Tennessee State Secondary 36. This is not the actual terminus, but two miles to the north of the northern terminus at U.S. 11W. Photo taken by Chris Curley (10/00).
Perspective from U.S. 23 south
U.S. 23 southbound, one mile north of the Interstate 26 beginning. The freeway enters the Kingsport city limit before reaching the U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1 partial-cloverleaf interchange. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Interstate 26 begins as traffic for former Exit 55/U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1 departs. U.S. 23 and Interstate 26 reach Interstate 81 and the 2003-05 southern terminus of Interstate 181 in nine miles near Colonial Heights. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Perspective from U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1 west
U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1 westbound on West Stone Drive at the Interstate 26 east & U.S. 23 southbound cloverleaf ramp. The first southbound interchange of the Interstate highway is three miles to the south at Reservoir Road. U.S. 11W/Tennessee 1 continues southwestward 85 miles to Knoxville where Tennessee 1 downgrades to a State Secondary Route. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Historic Western (Northern) Terminus (#2) - Interstate 81 - Colonial Heights, Tennessee
Perspective from Interstate 26 west/old Interstate 181/U.S. 23 north
Interstate 26 west/U.S. 23 northbound 0.75 miles south of Exits 46A/B of Interstate 81/ former 181. The Interstate 26/81/former 181 interchange is a standard cloverleaf. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Approaching the junction with Interstates 81 & former 181 and Exit 46A. There are five Tennessee interchanges left of Interstate 81 northbound within the Volunteer State. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Exit 46A for Interstate 81 northbound departs for Bristol. The city of Bristol is split between portions in both Tennessee and Virginia and is just 19 miles to the northeast. Further to the northeast Interstate 81 serves Wytheville and Roanoke, Virginia. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
The Interstate 81 southbound cloverleaf ramp from Interstate 26 west/U.S. 23 northbound. Interstate 26 transitioned into former Interstate 181 at this point. The city of Knoxville represents the control city of Interstate 81 south and is situated 84 miles to the southwest. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Perspective from Interstate 26 east (old Interstate 181)/U.S. 23 south
One-mile guide sign for Interstate 81/Exits 46B/A on Interstate 26 east (former Interstate 181 south)/U.S. 23 southbound. Interstate 26 began in one mile as former Interstate 181 crosses Interstate 81. The southern Tri-City of Johnson City is ten miles to the south of the upcoming interchange. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Exit 46B/Interstate 81 southbound guide sign at the approach to the interchange. Interstate 81 is a busy route through Tennessee as it is an alternate to Interstate 95 for Northeast U.S. traffic interests from the Mid-Southern states. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Entering the Interstate 81 cloverleaf interchange on former Interstate 181/U.S. 23 southbound. There are no major towns or cities along the final 57 miles of Interstate 81 south. There is a lot of scenery however. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Interstate 81 northbound cloverleaf as Interstate 26 begins. The Tri-Cities Regional Airport is six miles to the north at Exit 63. Interstate 181 used to end 15 miles to the south at Exit 31/U.S. 321 in Johnson City. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 26 east
Interstate 240
overlap begin
82 miles at Asheville, NC
Interstate 240
overlap end/
Interstate 40
86 miles at west Asheville, NC
Interstate 85 144 miles at Spartanburg, SC
Perspective from Interstate 81 north
The first sign of Exits 57A/B of Interstates 26 east and former 181 north/U.S. 23 on Interstate 81 northbound. Exit 56 is situated nearby for the Tri-Cities Crossing and Kendrick Creek Road. The sign from 2004 features both Interstate 181 and Interstate 26 shields, while the sign from 2003 features only Interstate 181 shields (along with U.S. 23). Photos taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03) and Carter Buchanan (08/08/04).
Interstate 81 adds an exit-only lane for Exit 57A/Interstate 26 east/U.S. 23 southbound. U.S. 23 originally was the only route along the Interstate 26/former 181 freeway as it connected Kingsport and Johnson City of the Tri-Cities region of northeastern Tennessee. Photos taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03) and Carter Buchanan (08/08/04).
Departure of Exit 57A/Interstate 26 east/U.S. 23 southbound. U.S. 23 is cosigned with Interstate 26 southward to the North Carolina line at Rice Bend. Photos taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03) and Carter Buchanan (08/08/04).
Westbound Interstate 26 (former Interstate 181 north)/U.S. 23 cloverleaf ramp from Interstate 81 northbound. The small sign attached to the overhead is a Tennessee Scenic Highway trailblazer. The paired routes enter the Kingsport city limits in just five miles. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 81 north
Interstate 381 21 miles at Bristol, TN
Interstate 77
overlap begin
90 miles at Wytheville, VA
Interstate 77
overlap end
99 miles at Fort Chiswell, VA
Perspective from Interstate 81 south
Interstate 81 southbound approaching the historic western terminus of Interstate 26/southern terminus of Interstate 181. The former northern terminus of Interstate 181 was nine miles to the north at Exit 55/U.S. 11W in Kingsport. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
An Interstate 26 was placed between the Interstate 181 and U.S. 23 shields on the one-mile guide sign. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Exit 57B for former Interstate 181 (Interstate 26 west) & U.S. 23 northbound guide sign. U.S. 23 continues as a freeway northward of former Interstate 181 to just south of the Tennessee state line at Morrison City. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Traffic to former Interstate 181/U.S. 23 northbound departs with the off-ramp to Interstate 26 eastbound in the background. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
The update of the sign bridge at Exit 46B of Interstate 81 southbound sees the replacement of the Interstate 181 southbound shield with that of Interstate 26. The cardinal direction still reflects south for U.S. 23. A quick fix east cardinal direction plate is affixed above the Interstate 26 shield on the guide sign. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Interstate 81 southbound at the Interstate 26 eastbound beginning. The marriage of U.S. 23 with Interstate 26 continues southward 81 miles all the way to Asheville. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/03).
Interstate 26/U.S. 23 guide sign of Exit 46A on Interstate 81 south. Signs on Interstate 26 west and former Interstate 181 south were not affected by the extension/truncation project of the two routes at the time. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 81 south
Interstate 40 57 miles near Dandridge, TN
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Historic Western Terminus (#1) - Interstate 40/240 - Asheville, North Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 26 west
Interstate 26 westbound, nearing the Interstate 40/240 junction. This is now the historical western terminus, as Interstate 26 continues northward along Interstate 240 toward Tennessee. According to AARoads contributor Carter Buchanan, Interstate 26 shields went up on associated guide signs of Interstate 240 on Saturday July 19, 2003. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
This sign bridge allocates the lanes for Exit 1A/B on Interstate 26 west. U.S. 74 departs Interstate 26 for Interstate 40 at this junction. Traffic for Interstate 26 and 240 and the city of Asheville is advised to stay toward the right. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
This guide sign may be obsolete now that Interstate 26 allows motorists to follow just one route northward to the Tri-Cities of Tennessee in place of U.S. 19-23. U.S. 70 also ties into the fold about midway along the Interstate 240 bypass of Asheville. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Pre-Interstate 26 extension diagrammatic overhead for the Interstate 26 junction with Interstate 40/U.S. 74 west and Interstate 240 east. Two lanes are allocated for both directions as Interstate 26 carries Spartanburg and other South Carolina based traffic to the Great Smokeys via Interstate 40 west. Exit 1A departs at this location to Interstate 40 east and the city of Hickory. Top photo taken by Carter Buchanan (06/00); bottom photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Thus far, the first Interstate 26 mentioning for the extension via Interstate 240 eastbound. Through the city of Asheville one eastbound reassurance shield is posted, and otherwise Interstate 26 shields are affixed to the top of Interstate 240 and U.S. 19-23 guide signs. Photo taken 08/23/03.
The split of Exit 1B/Interstate 40 and U.S. 74 west from Interstate 26 west/240 east. Downtown Asheville is five miles to the northeast. The city of Knoxville is 103 miles to the west. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Interstate 26 westbound merge onto Interstate 240 east at Interstate 40. Note that the original Interstate 240 shield on the right-hand panel was removed in favor of smaller Interstate 26-240 shields. An interesting numbering anomaly occurs with the Interstate 26 extension into the Volunteer State. The interchange of which Interstate 26 ended at Interstate 40 is signed at Exit 46. The new terminus at Interstate 81/181 is also signed as Exit 46 via Interstate 81. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Beyond the Interstate 40 and U.S. 74 west off-ramps, Interstate 26 west and 240 east see the first Interstate 240 reassurance shield. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Perspective from Interstate 26 east/240 west
The final mile of Interstate 240 parallels Interstate 40 just to the north. Due to close proximity, a direct ramp to Interstate 40 east does not exist. Instead traffic must utilize North Carolina 191/Brevard Road to access the freeway in the eastbound direction. The state route connects Interstate 26/240 Exit 1B with Interstate 40/Exit 47. Photos taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
The North Carolina 191 diamond interchange as seen from Interstate 26 east/240 west. The junction Interstate 26/40 sign was in place of an Interstate 240 west pull-through panel. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Interstate 26/240 expand to three lanes in anticipation of the Interstate 40/Exit 1A junction. The Haywood County seat of Canton is included with Knoxville, Tennessee as a control point for Interstate 40. The town is situated near the U.S. 74 split from Interstate 40 via the Smokey Mountain Thruway. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Interstate 240 westbound as it transferred to Interstate 26 east at Interstate 40. This image shows the Interstate 40 westbound ramp/Exit 1A as the mainline Interstate 240 lanes continued southward to Interstate 26. Asheville Regional Airport is another nine miles to the south. Vidcap taken 08/08/99.
Just two months before the Interstate 26 extension was signed, Interstate 240 at the historic eastbound beginning of Interstate 26 and conclusion of itself. In the background was the first Interstate 26 shield and associated U.S. 74 east trailblazer. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/19/03).
Perspective from Interstate 40 east
With U.S. 74 in tow, Interstate 40 eastbound approaches the Interstate 26 junction and Interstate 240 terminus interchange complex. U.S. 74 departs from Interstate 40 onto Interstate 26 after a 19 mile overlap. Interstate 26 carries the US highway another 37 miles before U.S. 74 finally sees some pavement of its own. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
Within one-half mile of Interstate 26 east/Exit 46A on Interstate 40/U.S. 74 eastbound. Hendersonville is the next destination of significance for Interstate 26. The town is located off Exit 18, 18 miles to the south. Spartanburg, South Carolina is approximately 60 miles to the southeast. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
Interstate 40 eastbound at the split with U.S. 74 east for Interstate 26 east/Exit 46A. Exit 46B for Interstate 240 east and now Interstate 26 west departs from the left at the upcoming stack. The freeway loop serves the downtown Asheville area, connecting with U.S. 19/23/70 to the north. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
Continuing beyond the Interstate 26/U.S. 74 eastbound ramp Interstate 40 splits with Interstate 26 west/240 east. As of the third week of August 2003, Interstate 26 signage is sparse along Interstate 240 and not acknowledged at all on Exit 46B guide signs. Photo taken 08/23/03.
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 40 east
Interstate 240 7 miles at east Asheville, NC
Interstate 77 106 miles at Statesville, NC
Interstate 74
future
147 miles at Winston-Salem, NC
Perspective from Interstate 40 west
The first guide sign for Interstate 26 on Interstate 40 westbound, one and a half miles to the east. Exit 47 for North Carolina 191 parallels Interstate 26 and 240 in this general vicinity and allows for return access to Interstate 26 west/Interstate 240 east from Interstate 40 west. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
A early fall display of the Interstate 26/U.S. 74 and North Carolina 191 sign bridge displayed in the above photograph. Photo taken by Brian LeBlanc (09/00).
Westbound Interstate 40, one mile from Exit 46A/Interstate 26/U.S. 74 east. North Carolina 191 intersects Interstate 26 at the next southward interchange of the freeway (Exit 2). Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
Exit 47 traffic departs for North Carolina 191 as Interstate 40 prepares to intersect Interstate 26/U.S. 74 west. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
Westbound Interstate 40 at Junction Interstate 26 Eastbound. There is no access to Westbound Interstate 26/Eastbound Interstate 240 from this interchange as it is currently configured. Note that Interstate 26/U.S. 74 eastbound (Exit 46A, note that there is no Exit 46B) departs from the left. Photo taken by Jeffrey Napier (01/02).
A second perspective of the Interstate 26/U.S. 74 sign bridge on Interstate 40 westbound. U.S. 74 continues westward with Interstate 40 to Exit 27 where it departs as the limited access Appalachian Thruway. Photo taken by Brian LeBlanc (09/00).
Next Three Interstate Junctions for Interstate 40 west
Interstate 81 80 miles near Dandridge, TN
Interstate 640 108 miles at east Knoxville, TN
Interstate 275 114 miles at downtown Knoxville, TN
Eastern Terminus - U.S. 17 - Charleston, South Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 26 east
Eastbound Interstate 26 approaches its end at U.S. 17. This interchange was completely reconfigured as a result of the new U.S. 17 bridge. The 2005 photos show the most recent configuration, while the 2001 and 2003 photos show the original configuration. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (8/10/05).
Interstate 26 eastbound (southbound) at the final mainline off-ramp for Exit 219B/Morrison Drive and East Bay Street. An Interstate 26 ends guide sign is in place indicating that the freeway will end at U.S. 17 in one mile. This interchange is a simple wye with no access from Interstate 26 west or to Interstate 26 east. Morrison Drive and East Bay Street constitute the routing of U.S. 52 Spur. Photos taken by Jeff Morrison (08/10/05), Chris Patriarca (06/08/03), and Chris Curley (03/14/01).
Continuing southward toward downtown Charleston, the three eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 prepare to partition into Exits 221A-B, Junction U.S. 17 and Meeting Street. U.S. 17, dubbed the Savannah Highway to the west, connects with Interstate 95 about 62 miles southwest of here. The viaduct of Interstate 26 travels over the adjacent U.S. 78 as it prepares to conclude as well at U.S. 17 in Downtown Charleston. In the 2005 photo, the FedEx truck in the one picture is on the new flyover ramp for Interstate 26 east to U.S. 17 north. Photos taken by Jeff Morrison (08/10/05), Chris Patriarca (06/08/03), and Chris Curley (03/14/01).
Interstate 26 concludes at this interchange complex The right-hand lanes serve U.S. 17 south and King Street for downtown. The left-hand lanes continue to U.S. 17 north and Meeting Street. The railroad line to the right is part of the Norfolk-Southern system. In 2001, there was no evidence of the flyover ramp, by 2003 pier supports for a new flyover were in place, and by 2005 the flyover was complete and in use. Mount Pleasant, the northbound control city of U.S. 17, is situated to the east of the Cooper River by about two miles. The downtown area is surrounded by water on three of four sides (Ashley River to the west and Cooper River to the east). Photos taken by Jeff Morrison (08/10/05), Chris Patriarca (06/08/03), and Chris Curley (03/14/01).
Historically, the Exit 221B ramp used to split with the Meeting Street ramp here with U.S. 17 north. This configuration has since changed, and this photo shows the former end of Interstate 26. Meeting Street connects to the Battery section of Charleston. A visitor center is situated to the south for the historical district and associated environs. The bridge in the foreground is that of the southbound lanes of U.S. 17. In the background is the ramp from U.S. 17 north to Interstate 26 west. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/08/03).
Taking the Exit 221A ramp to U.S. 17 southbound reveals an exit for King Street and Downtown. King Street enters the U.S. 17 intersection as U.S. 78. This junction is the eastern terminus of U.S. 78, which connects Charleston with Memphis, Tennessee, to the northwest. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/08/03).
Descending to street level from the Interstate 26 westbound ramp to U.S. 17 south. King Street and U.S. 78 enter from the left. Ahead is the South Carolina 30 northern terminus for the James Island freeway. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/08/03).
Perspective from U.S. 17 north
Crossing the Ashley River drawbridge toward the central business district of Charleston. Ahead is the junction of U.S. 17 north with Lockwood Drive. Interstate 26 traffic is directed to remain on U.S. 17/Cannon Street. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/12/03).
Now in the central business district of the city, U.S. 17 northbound splits with the Lockwood Drive access ramp. The westbound beginning of Interstate 26 is approximately one mile to the east at this point. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/12/03).
U.S. 17 turns off of Cannon Street at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District. The split U.S. 17 unites to form a divided highway between this location and the Interstate 26 terminal interchange. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/12/03).
Two of the U.S. 17 northbound three lanes are allocated for Interstate 26 west. These overhead signs are situated on a pedestrian overpass between Rutledge Avenue and Cumming Streets. Photo taken 11/12/06.
The Exit 221A off-ramp from Interstate 26 east can be seen entering the picture to the left. Meanwhile U.S. 17 northbound prepares to split with the Interstate 26 westbound beginning. Still to be encountered is the eastern terminus of U.S. 78 at King Street. Photos taken by Chris Patriarca (06/08/03) and 11/12/06.
This traffic signal is located on northbound U.S. 17 at the intersection with Corning Street. After this traffic signal, U.S. 17 flies over U.S. 78/King Street. To U.S. 78 east, turn left here, then turn right on Carolina Street and then left on King Street. Photo taken 11/12/06.
The Interstate 26 westbound beginning from U.S. 17 northbound. The US highway is limited access at this point, with a second off-ramp ahead at East Bay Street (U.S. 52 Spur). The first northbound interchange of Interstate 26 serves the U.S. 52 and 78 corridors as they to travel toward North Charleston and an exit of the metropolitan area. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/08/03).
Descending toward grade level on Interstate 26 from the U.S. 17 northbound ramp. Traffic merges in from the Meeting Street connector and southbound U.S. 17 ramp to give a total of three northbound lanes. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/12/03).
Perspective from U.S. 17 south
U.S. 17 crosses the Cooper River via the Arthur Ravenal, Jr. Bridge. This eight-lane, cable stay bridge connects Mount Pleasant with downtown Charleston, where Interstate 26 ends. Photo taken 05/30/07.
After passing through the two cable stay towers of the Ravenal Bridge, the first signs appear for the connection to downtown Charleston, first for Port Terminals and the Aquarium of South Carolina, followed by East Bay Street and Morrison Drive. In the distance, the Interstate 26 interchange and flyover ramps can be seen. Photo taken 05/30/07.
After the completion of the Ravenal Bridge on southbound U.S. 17, new diagrammatic signs were put in place to show the lane allocations for the junction with Interstate 26. Photo taken 05/30/07.
The next two exits on U.S. 17 south serve downtown Charleston. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Continuing south, the next exit along U.S. 17 south is the offramp for Meeting Street, followed by the ramp to westbound Interstate 26 to North Charleston and Columbia. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Use the right lane (exit only) to follow this ramp to Meeting Street from U.S. 17 south. Meeting Street travels south into downtown Charleston. To the north, Meeting Street is U.S. 52 north to North Charleston and Goose Creek. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Immediately thereafter, the right lane departs for Interstate 26 west (north) to Columbia. The left two lanes continue south on U.S. 17 to Savannah; the freeway ends after this split for traffic on U.S. 17 south. Photo taken 05/30/07.
The interchange between Interstate 26 and U.S. 17 in Charleston is the Lucille S. Whipper Interchange. Photo taken 05/30/07.
The single lane from U.S. 17 south prepares to merge with oncoming traffic transitioning onto Interstate 26 west from U.S. 17 north. Note the the first pull-through panel of Interstate 26, which is posted in lieu of a reassurance shield, on the ramp connecting U.S. 17 north to Interstate 26 west. Photos taken 05/30/07.
Old Perspective from U.S. 17 south (former Cooper River Bridge)
Prior to the completion of the Cooper River Bridge, the signage was a bit different for the approach on U.S. 17 south as it nears the westbound beginning of Interstate 26. Before encountering the freeway, an off-ramp departs for Meeting Street and the historical Battery District of downtown Charleston. U.S. 17 elevates above the Interstate 26 ramps to Meeting Street and the nearby Norfolk-Southern Railroad. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/10/03).
U.S. 17 southbound reaches the Interstate 26 westbound beginning. Ahead is the U.S. 78 terminus at King Street. Again U.S. 52 and 78 are featured on the Interstate 26 guide sign. These two US highways culminate in the city of Charleston after lengthy travels to the Midwest. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/10/03).
Perspective from Meeting Street north
Now leaving downtown Charleston on Meeting Street, a set of U.S. 17 shields is posted prior to Columbus Street. Use Columbus Street west to King Street north, which connects to U.S. 17 south. Continue straight ahead to connect to U.S. 17 north and Interstate 26 west. Note the older style U.S. 17 north shield used here, which is very uncommon. It would be appropriate to add a trailblazer shield for Interstate 26 west here. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Northbound Meeting Street intersects Columbus Street at this intersection. Continue straight ahead for Interstate 26 west and U.S. 17 north (as well as U.S. 52 north, which begins at the U.S. 17 interchange). Photo taken 05/30/07.
After passing Line Street and Sheppard Street, northbound Meeting Street meets this traffic signal, which is the ramp that connects Interstate 26 east with Meeting Street. It is the southernmost ramp to connect to Meeting Street from the U.S. 17/Interstate 26 interchange complex. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Between Sheppard Street and Lee Street, the first Interstate 26 west trailblazer appears on northbound Meeting Street along with another U.S. 17 north trailblazer. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Three blocks further (after Lee Street, Jackson Street, and Harris Street) and prior to Johnson Street is another Interstate 26 trailblazer on northbound Meeting Street. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Meeting Street north nears the Interstate 26/U.S. 17 interchange complex. A ramp gives direct access from the surface street and historical district to Interstate 26 west. Only a U.S. 17 trailblazer shield is posted on the roadside. Formerly the shield assembly was posted on a span wire assembly including what was the first appearance of a U.S. 52 shield. Meeting Street transitions to Nassau Street and the westbound beginning of U.S. 52. Between 2003 and 2007, the span wire signs, power lines, and traffic signals were removed and replaced with antique light fixtures and mast arm traffic signals. Redevelopment here is not complete. Photos taken 05/30/07 and by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
After passing under the U.S. 17 viaduct, traffic should turn left to access Interstate 26 west. However, the first connection is the right turn to U.S. 17 north. Photo taken 05/30/07.
Traffic to U.S. 17 north and Interstate 26 west departs Meeting Street via this access street to the right. The viaduct of U.S. 17 is above and ahead is the westbound beginning of U.S. 52. Again note the changes in signage between 2003 and 2007. Photos taken 05/30/07 and by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
A closer look at the Interstate 26 and U.S. 17 shield assembly Pictured above. Mount Pleasant is an eastern suburb of Charleston with a population of 30,108. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
Taking the access street east one block to the split of traffic for U.S. 17 north to Mount Pleasant and the u-turn ramp to Interstate 26 west. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
The beginning of the Interstate 26 westbound ramp from the Meeting Street vicinity. To the left is the ramp from U.S. 17 southbound. The two will converge with the ramp from U.S. 17 northbound within the next 0.25 miles. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
Merging onto Interstate 26 westbound from the Meeting Street ramp. The speed limit is set at 50 MPH through the northern reaches of the Central Business District of Charleston. Additionally large pier supports under construction come into view here. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (06/13/03).
Perspective from Interstate 26 west
Traffic from U.S. 17 north and U.S. 17 south merge together to form Interstate 26 at Milepost 220, counting down to the North Carolina state line. From here, the freeway will begin its journey northwest to North Charleston and Columbia. Nine miles to the north Interstate 26 reaches North Charleston. The freeway continues from there to the capital city of Columbia, 115 miles to the northwest. Photo taken 05/30/07.
This is the first reassurance shield for Interstate 26 west after the U.S. 17 interchange in Charleston. Photo taken 05/30/07.

Sources:

  1. "Fab road: I-26 through Smokies." Charlotte Observer, August 5, 2003.
  2. "Extending I-26 offers new opportunity." Bristol Herald Courier, August 3, 2003.
  3. "Highway opens to traffic." Asheville Citizen Times, August 5, 2003.
  4. I-26 Connector, Asheville, NC. NCDOT web site.
  5. Buchanan, Carter. "Re: I-26 and 485 Photos and More at All Things NC!" Online posting, Yahoo Groups - Southeast Roads and Transport, September 14, 2003.
  6. "DOT may delay I-26 Connector project," Asheville Citizen-Times, April 8, 2005.
  7. "Frist, Alexander, Jenkins applaud new designation of I-26." Press Release, August 2, 2005.
  8. Interstate 50th Anniversary Fact of the Day: "On March 10, 1969, a dedication ceremony was held in Charleston, South Carolina, to mark the completion of the 221-mile-long segment of I-26 in the Palmetto State. This Interstate highway, which was the second one to be completed in South Carolina, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. That route includes a corridor between Charleston and Columbia that has been important in the state's history since colonial times." http://www.interstate50th.org/history/2006-03-10.shtml
  9. NCRoads.com: I-26.

Page Updated July 6, 2015.

Mileage

State Tennessee
Mileage 31.00 (57*)
Cities Johnson City
Junctions Interstate 81, Interstate 181
State North Carolina
Mileage 53.67 (71.25)
Cities Asheville, Hendersonville
Junctions Interstate 240, Interstate 40
State South Carolina
Mileage 220.95
Cities Spartanburg, Clinton, Newberry, Columbia, Orangeburg, Goose Creek, Charleston
Junctions Interstate 85, Business Loop 85, Interstate 20, Interstate 126, Interstate 77, Interstate 95, Interstate 526
TOTAL 349* (305.62)

Source: December 31, 2014 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
* - estimate (TN figure based upon U.S. 23 mileposts)
The Route Log and Finders List retains the mileage for I-181 in Tennessee.
NC official mileage omits the segment of Future I-26.

Interstate 26 Annual Average Daily Traffic

State Location AADT Composite Year
Tennessee Flag Pond 5,670/8,440 2002/2004
Tennessee Johnson City 46,130/48,320 2002/2004
Source: Traffic Flow Maps - Tennessee Roads and Streets 2002, 2004 (TDOT)
Complete Interstate 26 AADT data.
Significant portions of Interstate 26 were already under construction throughout South Carolina by 1960.
Interstate 26 was open between Exit 115 (U.S. 21-176-321) and Exit 72 (S.C. 121 / old S.C. 19) and from Exit 15 (U.S. 176) to Exit 5 (S.C. 11) by 1960.
A 37-mile stretch of Interstate 26 opened to traffic in South Carolina's Low Country by late 1962. This extended the route southeast from U.S. 15 to U.S. 52 & 78 near North Charleston.
Interstate 26 was fully open in the Palmetto State between U.S. 15 (Exit 172) and South Carolina 14 (Exit 1) by 1962.
The majority of Interstate 26 was completed in the Tar Heel State by 1970. The exception was the east-west portion between East Flat Rock and Columbus - 1970 North Carolina Official Highway Map
None of Interstate 26 appeared on the 1963 North Carolina Official Highway Map. The completed portions on the 1970 map appeared first on the 1967 edition. The last original segment was completed in 1976.9
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