Interstate 73 is to cross the Virginia border and enter Rockingham County on US 220. US 220 in this area is a 4-lane expressway (divided highway with at-grade intersections plus some grade-separated interchanges) which was constructed during the mid to late-1990s (the last section to be four-laned, from NC 770 to the Virginia border was completed in 1998).1 For Interstate 73 to be signed the current highway must be converted to an Interstate standard freeway (Interstates have higher specifications than normal freeways, some of specs include (at least) 12' wide lanes, 12 foot wide right shoulders, 10 foot wide left shoulders, 36 foot (in rural areas) or 10 foot medians (urban or mountainous areas), and design speeds of either 60 mph (urban) or 70 mph (rural), for more about interstate standards, go to the AASHTO standards page).
Currently there are no active projects listed through 2027 in NCDOT's 2018-2027 Draft State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) to upgrade this highway. In previous STIPs there was only a project (R-5015) to rebuild the bridge and upgrade the US 220/NC 135 interchange near Mayodan. It is currently unfunded and no start date is listed.2 Also listed as an unfunded project is constructing a Welcome Center/Rest Area on southbound US 220 (I-73) at the Virginia border, construction to start after 2023 also.3 This project (K-4404) was restored after being dropped from 2003 and subsequent TIP documents.4 In the Summer of 1998, at the urging of Rockingham County Economic Development officials, NCDOT put up 2 signs along this stretch indicating the highway was a "Future I-73 Corridor" (see photo below). The signs were put up for primarily economic reasons to serve as an "advertisement, meaning the attraction of (future) businesses."1 In 2016, these signs were replaced by smaller signs northbound in Madison and southbound just over the Virginia border reading "Future I-73," like this one further south on US 220 North near Summerfield:
On May 19, 2015 NCDOT let the contract that will build an interchange to replace the current NC 68/US 220 intersection at the south end of this segment. Plans for the contract included those for signage that will be placed for the exit after the project is completed in 2018. This is the plan for the 1 Mile advance exit sign along US 220 South5:
Because the next segment of I-73 may not be complete, the exit number tab is being left for a future date. The number probably will be 123 (see I-73 Exit List)
PROJECT START DEPENDS ON VIRGINIA
In June 2008 it was reported that NCDOT had acquired the land necessary to upgrade the US 220 highway to interstate standards once Virginia started construction on their portion. Though the routing of I-73 from the NC border to Roanoke has been approved by the FHWA, funding has only been obtained for a short portion of highway near Martinsville but work on that section, originally scheduled for 2011, has been held up, first by a lawsuit from an organization called Virginians for Appropriate Roads that advocated I-73 on a renovated US 220, which was dismissed, and then by a group of Martinsville business owners that recommended VADOT chose a new route closer to Martinsville.6 VDOT approved that new route in 2011, but it must now go through a new round of reports to the FHWA to get their approval and then funds to build it. This is the resulting routing of I-73 around Martinsville (courtesy of the Martinsville Bulletin):
On May 22, 2016, Ronald 'Skip' Russell, President of the I-73 Committee of Martinsville and Henry County in an address to the Henry County Board of Supervisors indicated that the I-73 project was dead and officials should look elsewhere to spend the money allotted them for I-73.7 In a response a few days later, Virginia state senator William M. Stanley stated that nothing could be further from the truth and that he was working with other members of the state legislature to keep funding I-73 related projects.8 In February 2017, the Virginia General Assembly approved a bill to finance I-73 construction from Roanoke to North Carolina but there are a few major catches. First, the bill involves using moneys that currently go to funding US 58 improvements, these moneys would go to I-73 only after all the planned US 58 projects are completed, which may not be until 2030. Second, for the funding to happen both the Virginia Senate and House must approve the bill again in 2018. Third, construction would not start until there would be enough money to complete the project. The US 58 fund produces about $40 million each year, but the total I-73 project cost is estimated at $4 billion.9
Regardless of the eventual decision by Virginia, NCDOT has among its preliminary list of 2018-2027 STIP projects, two to upgrade US 220 to interstate standards, one from NC 68 to US 311/NC 135 in Mayodan for $194 million and one from US 311/NC 135 to the Virginia border for $187 million. Their strategic mobility formula scores, however are only 47 and 38/100, respectively, meaning they will not be high on the priority list of projects to start before 2028.10 In the meanwhile, an NCDOT project let in July 2011 and completed in 2012 added guardrails along both sides of the center median of US 220 from the NC 68 intersection to the VA border, it did not close of any existing median openings and did not seal off cross traffic at current intersections, however.11
Former I-73 Corridor sign along US 220 North near Madison, replaced in 2016. Photo courtesy of Chris Curley (via Adam Prince). (2/19/2000)
Here are some photos taken along the corridor in April 2013 by Site Contributor, Strider:
This is recent exit signage along US 220 north near Mayodan. NCDOT put up these new signs in 2012 to account for the US 311 extension then to Eden, NC (now further extended to Business US 58 in Virginia). (4/7/13)
NCDOT overhead signage near Madison also now accounts for the US 311 extension then to Eden, NC (and along US 220 North). (4/7/13)
Another new sign put up in 2012 to account for the US 311 extension. US 311 formerly ended at US 220 Business. (4/7/13)
Here are some other photos taken along the corridor by the Site Author in February 2009:
This is the previous exit sign seen in the first photo above. NCDOT added a'To US 311' sign stuck on top to account for the US 311 extension. The sign was replaced in 2012.
This is what US 220 mostly looks like in Rockingham County. Further south near NC 68 there are many businesses which will either have to be taken down or the roadway rearranged to include a frontage road.
This sign for NC 135 was also changed to include US 311 as well.
Approaching the Business US 220 exit northbound in Stoneville. Notice the left hand turn lane before the exit that will have to be removed during the conversion to a freeway.
Smith Road, the last exit in North Carolina. The Virginia border is about 3 miles north of here.
If anyone has any other photos of the current US 220 along this segment, feel free to E-mail me.