Spanning eight states Interstate 40 is a major cross-country freeway connecting the Desert Southwest with the Southeastern United States. Starting in Barstow, California, the freeway generally follows the alignment of Historic U.S. 66 across the Mojave Desert into the high desert. Spanning the Colorado River west of Kingman, I-40 gains elevation on a course south of the Grand Canyon to the city of Flagstaff. Advancing east across New Mexico, the freeway spans the width of the state, converging with Interstate 25 in Albuquerque.
Continuing to Amarillo, Interstate 40 transitions into the Great Plains in eastern New Mexico, leading into the Texas Panhandle. The freeway splits from Historic U.S. 66 at Oklahoma City, remaining generally eastward while U.S. 66 diverges northeast toward Tulsa, St. Louis and Chicago. Entering Arkansas, Interstate 40 trends southeast from Fort Smith along the Oklahoma state line to Little Rock. The freeway follows U.S. 70 east from the capital city to West Memphis. A short concurrency with I-55 precedes the Hernando DeSoto Bridge taking I-40 across the Mississippi River.
Through Memphis, I-40 follows the northern arc of the inner beltway; the southern half is I-240. The original planned alignment took I-40 across the city, using Sam Cooper Boulevard, a partially completed freeway/boulevard spur from the east toward Overton Park. Leaving Memphis, I-40 heads to Jackson and then Nashville, where it briefly overlaps with both I-65 and I-24. I-40 joins Nashville with Knoxville, merging with I-75 along an eight to ten lane freeway leading into the metropolitan area from Farragut.
Interstate 40 carries ten lanes of traffic between I-24 and SR 155 (Briley Parkway) in east Nashville. Photo taken April 4, 2013.
Turning along a southeasterly course, Interstate 40 traverses the Great Smoky Mountains into North Carolina. Spanning nearly the width of the Tar Heel State, I-40 connects regional cities in western parts of the state including Asheville, Hickory and Statesville with the Triad area (Winston-Salem and Greensboro). Combining with I-85, I-40 proceeds east to Durham, where it turns southward for the remainder of its 420 mile route in North Carolina to Raleigh and Wilmington.
Interstate 40 through California and Arizona is part of High Priority Corridor 16 and 70: Economic Lifeline Corridor. I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis is part of High Priority Corridor 55: Dallas to Memphis via Little Rock.
Contraflow plans for Interstate 40, where all lanes of the freeway are switched to one-way traffic leading away from the coast, arose in 2003 during the threat of Hurricane Isabel, which packed 160 mile per hour winds at one point. Under the plan, North Carolina officials would convert 90 miles of I-40, from Wilmington north to I-95, so that all lanes accommodated westbound traffic during the evacuation phase of a major hurricane threat. The configuration will end several hours before the arrival of Gale Force or higher winds from the threatening storm. A maximum 12 hour window will be implemented for contraflow, so that emergency vehicles and other traffic needing to travel toward the coast can do so.5
Contraflow was first implemented nationally in August 1999 when Hurricane Floyd threatened the Eastern Seaboard.5 Interstate 16 leading west from Savannah, Georgia was switched to one-way traffic to aid in what was considered the largest peace time evacuation in U.S. history. Floyd eventually made landfall in Wilmington, North Carolina with sustained winds of 105 miles per hour. The storm lingered over eastern North Carolina, producing substantial flooding inland. Hurricane Isabel also made landfall in North Carolina, crossing the coastline at Drum with 105 mph winds on September 18, 2003. The storm was blamed for 29 deaths and resulted in $1 billion in damage, including substantial erosion along N.C. 12, the coastal route along North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
The Big I – Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Big I construction project rebuilt the exchange joining I-40 with I-25 to the northeast of Downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. Utilizing left side ramps, the original “Crossroads of the Southwest” interchange was completed in 1966. Addressing weaving traffic patterns, poor sight lines, and increasing traffic congestion, the Big I rebuild the junction into a five level systems interchange. Construction also straightened out an S-curve along I-25 at adjacent Candelaria Road and expanded the frontage roads along both freeways to better accommodate local traffic. Totaling $293 million in costs, the Big I project ran from June 30, 2000 to May 25, 2002.17
Crosstown Expressway – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The finishing touches were made in December 2013 on an ambitious construction project that replaced the ailing Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City along Interstate 40 with a new alignment. Opened in 1966 and substandard in design, the elevated section of I-40 degraded into a state of disrepair by the mid 1990s. Due to structural issues, a weight restriction was enacted, prohibiting larger trucks from traveling on the viaduct system. Coupled with the cost of inspections and bridge upkeep, which increased to $1 million annually, improvements were needed.3
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) held the first public meeting for the Crosstown Expressway project in January 1996. Seven alternatives were generated from early discussions, including a no build option and the evaluation of Transportation Systems Management. ODOT added Alternative B-3 in December of 1996.
Various committees and public forums narrowed down the options to Alternate B-3 and Alternate D. Public review took place throughout 1998, and in December of that year, Alternate D was selected as the preferred alternative. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project was prepared through January 2001 and open to public comment the following month.3
Alternate D represented a new alignment following an existing railroad corridor, located five blocks south of the Crosstown Expressway. It outlined the construction of a surface or semi-depressed freeway with multiple access choices into Downtown, including a full interchange at Shields Boulevard (old U.S. 77). Alternative D also converted the former alignment of I-40 along the Crosstown Expressway into Crosstown Boulevard, a six lane surface arterial. With ample traffic capacity, Crosstown Boulevard was designed to provide direct access to the Bricktown section of the city.
The Crosstown Expressway Project measured 3.96 miles in length between May Avenue and Interstate 235. Amenities factored into the design to improve area neighborhoods included a sound wall to the south between Walker and Robinson Streets. The placement of the barrier close to I-40, which features a motif reflecting the Little Flower Church, allowed for a larger area of adjacent green space. Within the same vicinity a 20 foot wide pedestrian bridge was built across the freeway near Union Station. Known as the SkyDance Bridge, the 380-feet long span features an architectural wing, based off the state bird: the scissor-tailed flycatcher, rising 192 feet above Interstate 40. The Riverside neighborhood also benefited from a park (MAPS 3) created in 2003 with the added right-of-way acquisition.3
Final FHWA approval for the Crosstown Expressway project was granted in May 2002. This allowed ODOT to proceed with design, commence right-of-way acquisition, and ultimately construct the ten-lane highway. Ground breaking took place in 2005.
Interstate 40 eastbound shifted to the new lanes on January 5, 2012. Westbound traffic moved to the new roadway on February 19, 2012. Final costs for the project exceeded $670 million, substantially higher than the $274 million4 estimated in 2003.