Interstate 77 connects the eastern Great Lakes region with Appalachia and the Southeast. The freeway begins at Cayce on the south side of Columbia, following the Southeastern Beltway to Fort Jackson and I-20 near Forest Acres. The remainder of the route in South Carolina leads north to Rock Hill and the Charlotte metropolitan area.
Within the Tar Heel State, I-77 travels directly through the Queen City of Charlotte, serving Downtown in conjunction with Interstate 277, the John Belk and Brookshire Freeways. Leading north from Uptown Charlotte to Huntersville and Mooresville, I-77 constitutes a heavily traveled commuter route with Express Toll Lanes accompanying the route. The freeway remains well traveled to Statesville and the cross roads with Interstate 40.
I-77 north from Statesville to Fort Chiswell, Virginia is a rural but busy truck route. The stretch is punctuated by the Blue Ridge Mountains, which offers both scenery and potentially travel foggy conditions through Carroll County. A nearly nine mile overlap takes I-77 west along Interstate 81 to Wytheville. Coinciding with U.S. 11 and U.S. 52, cardinal directions along I-77/81 run opposite one another in what is sometimes referred to as a wrong-way concurrency.
Resuming a northward heading from Wytheville, Interstate 77 traverses a series of mountains to Bluefield, West Virginia. Tunnels take the route below Big Walker Mountain and East Mountain. Within the Mountaineer State, I-77 transitions into a toll road at U.S. 460 outside Princeton. The West Virginia Turnpike takes the route north to Beckley, where it combines with I-64 en route to Charleston.
Running along the Kanawha River into the capital city, I-64 and I-77 separate outside Downtown, with I-77 turning northeast briefly to Interstate 79. I-79 joins Charleston with Morgantown and Pittsburgh while I-77 remains along the former U.S. 21 corridor north to Parkersburg and Marietta, Ohio.
Advancing north through the Buckeye State, Interstate 77 stays rural to Cambridge, where it crosses paths with I-70. The route becomes increasingly busy from New Philadelphia into Canton, where U.S. 62 overlaps from separate east and west freeways. Suburban type development continues along the I-77 corridor from there north to Akron.
Interstate 77 forms an L-shaped route through Akron between I-277/U.S. 224 and a three mile overlap with I-76 south of Downtown. The freeway stays westerly to Ohio State Route 21 (former U.S. 21) near Fairlawn, where it makes the final turn toward the Cleveland area. I-77 and SR 21 parallel one another north to Independence and the Willow Freeway leading into the Forest City. The route concludes at Interstate 90 just south of Downtown.
Within Iredell and Mecklenburg Counties north of Charlotte, the I-77 Express Lanes project rebuilt 26 miles of freeway. The project added one or two High Occupancy Toll (HO/T) lanes between Exit 11 / I-277 and Exit 36 / NC 150. The lanes run in tandem with the free general purpose lanes, but incorporate a variable toll rate on single occupant vehicles or HOV-2 traffic. HOV-3 eligible vehicles are permitted to use the roadway free of charge. Estimated to cost $647 million and highly contested by area residents, the public-private partnership based project was expected to take three years to complete.5 Weather, construction delays and design changes pushed work beyond the end of 2018.6
I-77 north at Catawba Avenue in Cornelius, North Carolina. 07/28/19
Work on the I-77 Express Lanes was announced by the I-77 Mobility Partners LLC for November 16, 2015. Construction took place in the median of Interstate 77, starting in area south of Exit 23 and north of Exit 28, with occasional lane shifts and closures take place during overnight hours.5 The first section of the I-77 Express Lanes opened to traffic on June 1, 2019. The 15 mile long segment runs between Hambright Road (SR 2117), north of I-485 in Huntersville, and NC 150 (Exit 36) in Mooresville. The remaining 11 miles south to Interstate 277 (Exit 11) in Charlotte opened on November 16, 2019. Overall construction on the project continued to December 2020.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Largely following the original route of U.S. 21, Interstate 77 parallels or overlaps with U.S. 21 from Columbia, South Carolina to Wytheville, Virginia. Northward through West Virginia to Cleveland, Ohio, I-77 replaced U.S. 21, which was truncated in stages between 1974 and 1979.
With just two lanes, the West Virginia Turnpike opened to traffic on November 8, 1954. The toll road was later incorporated as parts of both I-64 and I-77. The project upgrading the turnpike from two to four lanes was completed on September 2, 1987.1
The 4,200 foot long Big Walker Mountain Tunnel in western Virginia took five years to build. Costing $30 million, the first mountain tunnel constructed in the state opened in 1972.2
Interstate 77 ended at Charlotte, North Carolina from the north until June 23, 1969, when the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) approved the extension to Columbia, South Carolina.
Completion of I-77 southward to I-26 was formally recognized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) on April 22, 1995. This extension lengthened Interstate 77 south from its previous end at I-20 to I-26. Interstate 326, which was briefly designated on the Southeastern Beltway between I-26 and S.C. 48 south of Columbia, was subsumed by the extended I-77. The gap between I-20 and S.C. 48 was closed prior to the renumbering. The Temporary Interstate 77, signed on I-20 and I-26 around Columbia, was also eliminated in 1995.
$36.3 million in construction at Exit 82 in Rock Hill, South Carolina improved the interchanges at Cherry Road (U.S. 21) and S.C. 161 (Celenese Road). Linking the two exchanges, a collector distributor roadway was added along both sides of I-77. Work also included widening the I-77 bridge over the Catawba River. This project was complete by September 2004.3