Interstate 73 is a freeway first planned in 1991 as part of High Priority Corridor 5 as defined by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA). Amendments to the routing of I-73 occurred in 1995 with the passage of the National Highway System Designation Act and in 1998 with the passage of the Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). In addition to providing for I-73, High Priority Corridor 5 includes the extension of already-existing Interstate 74 from its current eastern terminus in Cincinnati, Ohio, east to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Presently Interstate 73 runs in tandem with Interstate 74 and U.S. 220 from Ellerbe northward to Randleman, and then without I-74 from there to the Greensboro Beltway (Painter Beltway). U.S. 220 extends north as a freeway to Interstate 40 in Greensboro, while I-73 turns northwest along side U.S. 421 to meet I-40 near Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI). U.S. 421 departs for I-40 west while I-73 combines with Interstate 840 for the final push to Joseph M. Bryan Boulevard, the future western turn of I-73 to the N.C. 68 corridor.
High Priority Corridor
Interstate 73 in its entirety is part of High Priority Corridor 5: I-73/74 North-South Corridor. Its designation is written into law.
Parallel/Historic U.S. Routes
Interstate 73 is merged with U.S. 220 for its existing section. It would follow sections of U.S. 52, U.S. 23, and U.S. 127 if extended north to Michigan and sections of U.S. 501 if extended south to Myrtle Beach.
The first time Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 were submitted to AASHTO for approval was at the Special Committee on Route Numbering meeting of April 19, 1996. At that meeting, North Carolina submitted three requests under Section 332(a)(2) of the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. None of the three requests were approved at that particular meeting:
- Establish Interstate 73 - "Beginning at the intersection of U.S. Route 220 at the Virginia State Line, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of State Route 68 northwest of Greensboro, then southerly over U.S. Route 68 (sic) to the intersection of Interstate Route 40 in Kernersville, then southeasterly over I-40 to the intersection of U.S. Route 220 in Greensboro, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of U.S. Route 1 in Rockingham, then southwesterly over U.S. Route 1 to the South Carolina State Line." The action to establish this route was continued at the April 1996 meeting, and it was subsequently amended in future iterations by North Carolina and adjacent states.
- Establish Interstate 74 - "Beginning at the intersection of Interstate Route 77 at the Virginia State Line, then southerly over I-77 to the intersection of U.S. 52 south of Mount Airy, then southeasterly over U.S. Route 52 to the intersection of U.S. Route 311 in Winston-Salem, then easterly and southeasterly over U.S. Route 311 to the intersection with U.S. Route 220 in Randleman, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of U.S. Route 74 in Rockingham then southeasterly over U.S. Route 74 to the intersection of U.S. Route 76 in Whitehall, then westerly over U.S. Route 76 to the South Carolina State Line." The action to establish this route was continued at the April 1996 meeting, and it was subsequently amended in future iterations by North Carolina and adjacent states.
- Establish Temporary Interstate 74 - a request was made to establish a temporary designation along U.S. 52 from Interstate 40 north 11.22 miles to the intersection with North Carolina 1840. This request was disapproved in favor of "To Interstate 74."
Once the proposals for Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 were resubmitted in a joint proposal by Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, AASHTO approved them as Interstate Highways via a mail ballot completed on July 25, 1996. The results of this ballot were approved as part of the meeting of October 5, 1996. The routes were modified into the following descriptions:
- Establish Interstate 73 - "Beginning at the intersection of Interstate Route 81 and Interstate Route 581 north of Roanoke, Virginia, then southeasterly over I-581 to the intersection of U.S. Route 220 at the Virginia State Line, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of State Route 68 northwest of Greensboro, then southerly over U.S. Route 68 (sic) to the intersection of Interstate Route 40 north of High Point, then southeasterly over I-40 to the intersection of U.S. Route 220 in Greensboro, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of U.S. Route 1 in Rockingham, then southwesterly over U.S. Route 1 to the intersection of State Route 9 near Cheraw, South Carolina, then southerly over S.R. 9/38 to the intersection of U.S. Route 501 near Marion, then southerly over U.S. Rout(e) 501 (sic) to the intersection of U.S. Route 701 in Conway, then southwesterly over U.S. Route 701 to the intersection of U.S. Route 17 in Georgetown, then southerly over U.S. Route 17 to the terminal interchange of Interstate Route 26 in Charleston, South Carolina." The southern terminus of this route, along with certain other segments, would be modified in the ensuing years.
- Establish Interstate 74 - "Beginning at the intersection of Interstate Route 81 and Interstate Route 77 east of Wytheville, Virginia, then southerly over I-77 to the intersection of U.S. Route 52 south of Mount Airy, then southeasterly over U.S. Route 52 to the intersection of U.S. Route 311 in Winston-Salem, then easterly and southeasterly over U.S. Route 311 to the intersection with U.S. Route 220 in Randleman, then southerly over U.S. Route 220 to the intersection of U.S. Route 74 in Rockingham then southeasterly over U.S. Route 74 to the intersection of a new facility to be constructed west of Whiteville, then southerly over the new facility to the intersection of U.S Route 17 southwest of Wilmington, then southwesterly over U.S. Route 17 to the intersection of proposed Interstate Route 73 at a point yet to be determined in near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina."
This section provides an overview of where Interstate 73 is slated to be constructed from South Carolina north to Michigan:
In South Carolina, Interstate 73 will begin at U.S. 17 in Myrtle Beach, using South Carolina 22, the Conway Bypass / Veterans Highway. Interstate 74 will go northeast via the Carolina Bays Parkway (South Carolina 31) and North Carolina 211 to Whiteville, North Carolina. Interstate 73 will turn northwest via U.S. 501 and U.S. 1 to the North Carolina State Line. Interstate 73 would meet a proposed eastern extension of Interstate 20 near Marion, South Carolina. Interstates 73/74 were originally slated to begin in Charleston under the 1991 legislation, but it was moved back to Myrtle Beach as a result of 1995 and 1998 actions. These actions were the result of Governor Mark Sanford, then 1st District U.S. representative. Gov. Sanford heeded the objections of residents in both Charleston and Georgetown Counties relating to historical and ecological impacts that may incur with the construction of Interstate 73. These legislative actions were reconsidered in 2004, but unchanged, reaffirming that Interstate 73 will not continue south of Myrtle Beach. No southern extension to the Interstate 73 high priority corridor was included in the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU); however, a significant sum of money was appropriated in that bill to Interstate 73 north of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.
A 2003 article in The Sun News (Myrtle Beach) indicated that state officials touted a southward extension of Interstate 73 to Georgetown, potentially in the overall U.S. 17-701 corridor, and ultimately to Interstate 26 in Berkeley County. In 2003, funding of the South Carolina segment of Interstate 73 was inserted into the federal budget by U.S. Rep. Henry Brown, R-SC in the form of $3 million pertaining to preliminary studies. The new routing would not affect Charleston County and would avoid U.S. 701, site of the previous Interstate 73 proposed alignment. These areas are important in that they relate to the population proportion of those who opposed the original routing. With all of that stated, the U.S. 701 corridor was in need of improvements such as widening. Funding for this and other related projects however was not readily available and thus the discussion of extending Interstate 73 southward grew out of the funding debate as the designation would allow U.S. 701 related projects to receive federal funding. Other environmental concerns and objections from additional conservationists continued opposite proponents of Interstate 73 progress with their agenda.1
A later development surrounded the routing of Interstate 73 to the north in Marion County, South Carolina. Announced in early October 2003, plans for Interstate 73 suggested the 1997 alignment through the Pee Dee county. This announcement countered an August 2003 proposal by the South Carolina Department Transportation of four routes, none of which enter the northern half of Marion County, for Interstate 73. Representative Jim Battle, D-Nichols met with delegates in Washington, D.C. to request $4 million in funds for Environmental Impact Studies and Right-of-way purchases for the Marion County corridor. It was hoped that the 90-mile corridor will run north-south between the towns of Marion and Mullins while joining U.S. 501 and South Carolina 38. When finalized, the Interstate 73 project would take about 10 years to complete and cost between $1 and 2 billion. 3 A proposal was floated in December 2003 to construct Interstate 73 as a toll road, and that remains one of many options on how to fund the project.4
For more on the South Carolina section of Interstate 73, visit:
The South Carolina 22 (Veterans Highway) freeway fully opened to traffic on May 4, 2001 after 15 years from planning to completion. Constructed over the course of three years, the $368-million highway was completed six months ahead of schedule.7 The southerly portion of Veterans Highway, between S.C. 90 and U.S. 17, opened on June 29, 2000. It includes the Intracoastal Waterway Bridge, which saw initial work in 1994.8 Following that portion was the completion between South Carolina 90 and 905, including the crossing over the Waccamaw River on November 6, 2000.9 The 28-mile roadway provides an easterly bypass of Conway from U.S. 501 to U.S. 17 west of Windy Hill Beach.
In North Carolina, Interstate 73 will enter via U.S. 1 north to Rockingham. At Rockingham, Interstate 73 augments U.S. 220 north to Greensboro and the Virginia State Line via Ulah. Interstates 73 and 74 combine between Rockingham (Junction U.S. 74) and Randleman (Junction U.S. 311). The only exception to Interstate 73 following U.S. 220 is where I-73 follows the Greensboro Loop (Interstate 840) around Greensboro to the west. The extant U.S. 220 mileage remains as a non-Interstate freeway. The segment north of Asheboro was upgraded in Interstate standards starting in 2005. This brought to standards previously signed portions of the U.S. 220 freeway south of Asheboro (between Ulah and Ether) as Interstates 73 & 74.
$700 million in transportation bonds released by Gov. Mike Easley were allocated for Randolph County, North Carolina. Of these funds, three projects were under consideration involving the Interstate 73 & 74 corridors. The first of which entailed safety improvements and the upgrading of U.S. 220 to Interstate standards from the Asheboro city limits northward to the Greensboro urban loop. This eight mile segment was scheduled for construction between 2007-08. A second major project involved the construction of an 11.5 mile freeway between U.S. 220 and the city of Archdale. This included the U.S. 311 connector to Interstate 73 and joins the area with Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI). Work on this project was also scheduled for 2007-08. A third project was the upgrade of the Interstate 73/74 rest area at Seagrove to a full tourist information center. Construction on the 20 acre site was slated for 2006.2 In 2005, funds were appropriated to several sections of Interstate 73 in North Carolina as part of SAFETEA-LU.
With that stated, Interstate 73 was completed south from Candor to Ellerbe in 2008 as was the southwest quadrant of the Greensboro beltway (Painter Boulevard) in 2008. The new alignment for I-74 from Randleman (I-73 & U.S. 220) northwest to Archdale opened to traffic in stages between November 2010 and June 2013. Work continues on the next section of I-73, a 9.4-mile segment from Bryan Boulevard near PTI Airport to U.S. 220 at Haw River. Also referenced as the U.S. 220/NC 68 connector, forecast completion on the newest portion of I-73 was moved forward from April 25, 2017 to December 2016. The accelerated timeline was the result of efforts by NCDOT with local and state officials, as the project runs in tandem with construction to build a taxiway bridge for PTI Airport across the new freeway.11
For more on the North Carolina section of Interstate 73, visit:
In Virginia, Interstate 73 will enter the state along the U.S. 220 corridor leading north from Greensboro, North Carolina. Interstate 73 is planned to parallel U.S. 220 from the North Carolina State Line north to Roanoke, replacing Interstate 581. From there, I-73 will merge onto Interstate 81 southbound, then connect with the U.S. 460 corridor from I-81 west to Blacksburg to the West Virginia State Line via the planned "Smart Road." The Smart Road segment of I-73 is the "proposed highway to demonstrate intelligent transportation systems authorized by item 29 of the table in section 1107(b) in the vicinity of Christiansburg."
Five signs were installed in April 2015 along Interstate 581 and the Roy L. Webber Expressway touting the route as the Future 73 Corridor. Costs to upgrade U.S. 220 between Roanoke and the North Carolina state line to Interstate standards were estimated at $4 billion. Only $11 million was made available for the I-73 corridor in Virginia at the time. If all monies were available, an estimated ten years of construction would be required to complete the I-73 corridor.10
In West Virginia, Interstate 73 will enter from the east, following the corridor connecting Blacksburg, Christiansburg, and Roanoke in Virginia with U.S. 52 in Bluefield. The Interstate 73/74 route through West Virginia is split into three segments: Huntington area, Huntington to Williamson (Tolsia Highway), and Williamson to Bluefield (King Coal Expressway). At Bluefield, Interstate 73 will pick up Interstate 74 and U.S. 52 from the south. Interstate 73/74 will merge in a northwesterly direction along an upgraded U.S. 52 all the way to Huntington. Both Interstates will cross into Ohio at Huntington.
A significant sum of money was appropriated toward the construction of the Tolsia and King Coal Highways in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU transportation reauthorization bill. However, the corridor may not necessarily be constructed to Interstate standards initially. The first priority is to create a divided highway.
Resources for Interstate 73-74 in West Virginia include:
The Interstate 73 Corridor is probably the least likely to be constructed in Ohio, despite the federal law designating the route. As proposed in the 1995 National Highway System Act, Interstate 73 would enter Ohio via the U.S. 52 corridor. It will be joined with Interstate 74 between Huntington, West Virginia and near Lucasville, Ohio. Interstate 73 will pick up U.S. 23 and follow it north to Portsmouth and Columbus. Although the Portsmouth Bypass is a programmed project, it is probably not going to be constructed for some time barring an influx of outside funding or toll revenue. In Columbus, Interstate 73 may follow Interstate 71 and Ohio 315, but these plans are not yet clear. The proposed route in Delaware County would follow U.S. 23 south from Waldo, then skirt the northeast edge of Delaware to U.S. 36, following that route toward Interstate 71. Then it will head northwest via U.S. 23 from Columbus toward Toledo via Marion and Ottawa. It seems unlikely that the Ohio 15 bypass near Findlay will be used as part of the mainline Interstate 73, but it might become an Interstate spur route. Interstate 73 would likely loop around Toledo via Interstate 475 or via Interstate 280. Interstate 73 would leave Ohio via the U.S. 23 and U.S. 223 freeway or via U.S. 127. Interstate 73 is deferred pending funding identification. It is not planned to be constructed as a toll road at this time.
In Michigan, Interstate 73 is proposed to follow U.S. 223 northwest from Toledo to Adrian, then turn north along U.S. 127 through Lansing to Interstate 75. Interstate 73 would then run tandem with Interstate 75 from Grayling north to Sault Ste. Marie, but it is unclear if it would actually be signed all the way to Canada. Most of this corridor is already freeway, except for U.S. 223.
Between 1999 and 2001, the Michigan Department of Transportation studied the feasibility of the Interstate 73 Corridor in that state. The study was completed in December 2001, with a decision not to proceed with Interstate 73 due to lack of funding and a lack of need along certain portions of the route. As part of this study, various corridors were considered, including an option to route the freeway through Toledo or to send it south on U.S. 127 to the Ohio Turnpike rather than using U.S. 223. On April 16, 1999, AASHTO's Route Numbering Subcommittee approved the elimination of U.S. 27 north of Lansing and the designation of U.S. 127 over the same route. By 2001, signs for U.S. 127 appeared on the route. This makes it less likely that Michigan will want to change the designation of this freeway again (to Interstate 73).
Another reason why Interstate 73 was deferred in Michigan was because the State of Ohio also stopped its feasibility study for Interstate 73. This leaves the freeway in doubt for both Michigan and Ohio for the immediate term. No appropriations for this portion of the corridor were made in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU transportation reauthorization bill. Longer-term, Interstate 73 remains a possibility for future years, but it is not definite.
The only foreseeable construction along this corridor involves finishing Interstate 73 from Myrtle Beach north to Roanoke. Even the most optimistic forecasts do not see the construction of Interstate 73 north of this point for over 20 years for the following reasons:5
- The segment of Interstate 73 from Interstate 81 northeast to Interstate 77, including the Smart Road near Virginia Tech, is not scheduled for construction until after 2020, and even then there are significant environmental obstacles to overcome, including the area through Narrows and Rich Creek.
Unless an outside source of funding is found, much of the $2 billion required to bring U.S. 52 to Interstate standards in West Virginia is unavailable. However, U.S. 52 is being brought up to "corridor standards," which includes interchanges at key junctions but not full access control.6
- "Ohio has no plans to pursue I-73," said Joel Hunt, Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman. "It's not part of our long-range plan." While there are many other projects requiring funding in the Buckeye State, the Interstate 73 was no longer considered. However, individual projects to upgrade roads along the corridor, including U.S. 23, are still being pursued at a local level rather than a statewide level.
- Due to the gap in the route from states to the south, Michigan is also no longer pursuing Interstate 73. However, it too is pursuing local improvements to the route, including the section of U.S. 127 freeway that is missing north of Lansing.
Due to these concerns, as well as the overall lack of funding, members of the South Carolina delegation in favor of constructing the entire route have begun lobbying their congressional delegation to discuss the project with representatives of the other five states through which the road traverses. It remains to be seen whether they will be successful in their plan.5
|Historical Perspective from Interstates 73-74 south
||End Interstate 73 and 74 shield assembly posted near the south end of the U.S. 220 freeway, four miles south of the original freeway end at Candor. Ahead traffic from Alternate U.S. 220 returned to U.S. 220. The Alternate route represents the original U.S. 220 through Candor, Biscoe, Star, Ether, and Seagrove. In the state of North Carolina, the original U.S. route, when replaced by a freeway alignment, is generally signed as Business in built-up areas and Alternate in more rural areas. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (08/16/03).
||The four lane freeway ended. The next segment of Future Interstate 74 was found 24 miles to the south at Rockingham. There Future Interstate 74 shields are posted along the U.S. 74 Rockingham Bypass. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (08/16/03).
||Two-way traffic commenced for U.S. 220 southbound. This portion was bypassed in January 2008, when I-73 & 74 were extended south beyond Ellerbe. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (08/16/03).
|Interstate 73 extends north from Interstate 40 along side I-840 to Joseph M. Bryan Boulevard, an east-west freeway joining Greensboro with Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTI). I-73 will overtake Bryan Boulevard west to the U.S. 220 / NC 68 Connector, currently under construction from NC 68 at Pleasant Ridge Road to U.S. 220 at the Haw River.
"Activists vow fight if I-73 plans move farther south." The Sun News (Myrtle Beach), July 19, 2003.
"Citizens prioritize for NCDOT." The Courier-Tribune, October 14, 2003.
"Interstate corridor might go through Marion County." Florence Morning News, October 2, 2003.
- "I-73 proposed as toll road." John Lansford, post to MTR, December 16, 2003.
"Interstate 73 backers look to other states" by Zane Wilson, The Myrtle Beach Sun News
- "Re: S.C.: Interstate 73 backers look to other states." Sherman Cahal, post to MTR, Wednesday, April 13, 2005.
"Short Road Has Wide Influence." Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), May 4, 2001.
"Veterans Highway Offers Some Relief (Conway Bypass Opens)." Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), June 30, 2000.
"Part Of S.C. 22 Opening Monday." Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), November 3, 2000.
"New I-73 signs go up, but not the highway." The Roanoke Times (VA), April 3, 2015.
"New leg of I-73 in Triad to open this year." Triad Business Journal, January 26, 2016.
Page Updated January 26, 2016.