Interstate 140 is the designation for the Northern Outer Loop / Wilmington Bypass in southeastern North Carolina. The freeway loop originates from a trumpet interchange with U.S. 17 to the west of Wilmington at Bishop in Brunswick County. I-140 heads north across an area of wetlands and forest to U.S. 74/76 at Leland, where it curves east toward Navassa and the viaduct system spanning the Cape Fear River.
East into New Hanover County, I-140 meets U.S. 421 at the western approach to the Dan Cameron Bridge, a high level span crossing the Northeast Cape Fear River. The bypass passes north of Wilmington International Airport (ILM) between Wrightsboro and Castle Hayne. Signs for I-140 end the route at the exchange with Interstate 40, just east of U.S. 117/N.C. 132. The remainder of the Wilmington Bypass east to U.S. 17 (Market Street) at Kirkland is marked as North Carolina State Route 140.
With full funding announced by Pender County on September 6, 2018, construction proceeded in 2019 on the Hampstead Bypass. Split into two sections, the $113 million project builds a 13-mile long limited access highway north from N.C. 140 to N.C. 210 at Hampstead, and from there northeast to U.S. 17 beyond Topsail. Work at N.C. 140 builds a half turbine interchange midway between I-40 and U.S. 17 at Scotts Hill. Completion of the bypass is anticipated for 2025.10
The state of North Carolina proposed designating Interstate 140 previously along the U.S. 1 freeway from U.S. 421 at Sanford northeast to I-40 at Raleigh. The application sent to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) was disapproved by the Route Numbering Subcommittee on April 16, 1999. The decision cited that significant portions of the route did not meet Interstate standards. Much of the U.S. 1 freeway was eventually upgraded during construction in the mid 2000s.
The Wilmington Bypass was preliminarily approved as an Interstate highway by the Federal Highway Administration on September 18, 2002. AASHTO approved Interstate 140 for the Northern Outer Loop on May 30, 2003. It was added to the North Carolina’s Strategic Highway Corridors map on November 12, 2004, including an unbuilt extension east from U.S. 17 at Bishop to U.S. 421 south of Wilmington.
The first section of Interstate 140 opened to traffic north of Wilmington on August 22, 2005. The three mile long freeway linked Interstate 40 with N.C. 133 (Castle Haynes Road) near Wrightsboro. Construction of the highway across the Cape Fear River to U.S. 421 continued with a scheduled opening expected in late 2005.1 However that segment was not ready for traffic until June 30, 2006.2 The section of freeway between I-40 and U.S. 17 at Scotts Hill also opened on June 30, 2006.2,3
Interstate 140 was designated initially along a 6.80-mile segment of the Northern Outer Loop from U.S. 17-421 east across the Northeast Cape Fear River to Interstate 40 north of Wilmington. The remaining freeway east of I-40 to Scotts Hill was signed solely as U.S. 17 and later assigned as unmarked N.C. 140. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) concurred that the route met Interstate standards in a letter dated December 15, 2008.
The next section of the Northern Outer Loop constructed was the north-south stretch of freeway connecting U.S. 17 at Bishop / Town Creek with U.S. 74/76 west of Leland. It opened to traffic on October 16, 2014.4 Lacking the connection with the north leg of I-140, it was designated as North Carolina Route 140.
Under construction since 2011, the Leland stretch of the Wilmington Bypass was scheduled to open in September 2013. It was delayed. The final two sections, budgeted at nearly $246 million, linked the N.C. 140 segment south from Leland with the signed portion of I-140 east from U.S. 421 in New Hanover County.5 A $125-million contract was let in September 2013 on the section between Cedar Hill Road in Navassa and U.S. 421. This included the construction of a 65-foot high bridge over the Cape Fear River. A contract for work between U.S. 74/76, west of Leland, and Navassa was awarded by Spring 2014 as well. Completion of all work was scheduled for November 2017.6,7
Costing $211 million, the final section of I-140, between U.S. 74-76 at Leland and U.S. 421, opened to traffic on December 19, 2017. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the seven mile link on December 15.8 N.C. 140 south from Leland to U.S. 17 was subsequently renumbered as Interstate 140. Additional construction, including work on Mt. Misery and Cedar Hill Roads, continued as part of the Wilmington Bypass project through Spring 2018.9