Starting in the vastness of western Texas, then emerging in the southeastern states as a major highway through several metropolitan areas, Interstate 20 provides a 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 concluding in Florence, South Carolina.
Interstate 20 begins in a remote area from IH 10 near Kent, Texas. The westernmost section of IH 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 IH 20 bypasses both cities to the south, overriding portions of original alignments of IH 820 and IH 635 respectively. IH 30, beginning at IH 20 west of Fort Worth, connects long distance travelers with Downtown and to Dallas by way of the original Dallas Fort-Worth Turnpike. IH 820, the first branch of IH 20 from the west, constitutes a belt route around the west, north, and east side of Fort Worth as well.
East from Fort Worth, IH 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 areas as it enters the vast Piney Woods region of East Texas. Through the Piney Woods, IH 20 serves the cities of Tyler, Longview and Marshall east to the Louisiana state line.
Upon entering Caddo Parish, Louisiana, Interstate 20 enters the Shreveport metropolitan area. Continuing east across the city, I-20 splits with I-220, a bypass to the north, and combines with I-49. I-49 joins I-20 for 5.8 miles between I-220/LA 3132 and its original north end outside Downtown. Interstate 49 is proposed to continue north along the Inner City Connector from a systems interchange with I-20 to the exchange where it separates from I-220 north of Cross Lake.
East of Bossier City, Interstate 20 passes by Barksdale A.F.B. and transitions back into a rural freeway. Paralleling U.S. 80, I-20 proceeds to Minden, Arcadia and Rustin. Once it reaches Monroe, I-20 becomes an urban freeway again along the busiest stretch between Dallas and Jackson, Mississippi. Monroe was also the location of another proposed branch loop, Interstate 420.2 72 miles beyond Downtown Monroe, I-20 spans the Mississippi River across the Vicksburg Bridge, a four lane cantilever span.
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 along the route across 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 and eight lanes as it overlaps with U.S. 49 and I-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. 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 freeway bypass 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 I-20 and U.S. 80 through the suburbs of Pearl and Brandon. East of Exit 59, Interstate 20 resumes along a rural course.
The last urban center along Interstate 20 in Mississippi is Meridian. Here the freeway commences a lengthy overlap with Interstate 59. Forming part of a regional corridor between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to Birmingham and Nashville, I-59 enters Meridian from Laurel and Hattiesburg to the southwest. Passing south of Downtown Meridian, U.S. 11-80 and MS 19 combine along I-20/59 as well.
Entering the state of Alabama, I-20/59 travel to Cuba, were State Route 8 ties in from the east. SR 8 and U.S. 80 are part of High Priority Corridor 6, a federally mandated corridor between Meridian and Savannah, Georgia. The corridor also doubles as the planned extension of Interstate 85 west from Montgomery.
I-59/20 travel northeast from the Mississippi 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 I-59/20 . Interstate 359 connects the freeway with the Tuscaloosa central business district and U.S. 43 bridge to North Port.
Continuing northeast toward Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, I-59/20 maintain six lanes with increasing traffic counts. Interstate 459 provides a bypass for through traffic around Birmingham and Jefferson County for points north and east. While the southwest suburb of Bessemer is more industrial based, Hoover, Vestavia Hills and other suburbs south of Birmingham and within Shelby County add substantial commuter traffic to I-459. Staying north to Downtown Birmingham, I-59/20 proceed to Interstate 65 and the locally named “Malfunction Junction”. The exchange with I-65 utilizes left side ramps, with roadways along both freeways switching sides.
Downtown Birmingham lies south of a viaduct along I-59/20 and north of Red Mountain. With preliminary work started in 2015, a four-year project through January 2020 replaces the aging six-lane viaduct. The 154 mile overlap along I-59/20 ends east of there 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 four-level interchange joins this stretch with I-459. Another 11 miles of suburban areas buffer I-20 before the highway leaves the metropolitan area beyond Leeds and Moody.
Interstate 20 traverses mountainous areas eastbound near Cook Springs, Alabama (Exit 152) after a rain shower. The freeway remains rural as it advances toward Atlanta, Georgia. Subsequent work along this segment expanded I-20 to six overall lanes. Photo taken 07/15/05.