I-74 east of Lumberton is to use the existing US 74 highway southeast to the US 76 interchange east of Whiteville. Currently, US 74 from NC 41 south to US 76 is a four-lane divided highway. A project to widen the road was completed in 1999 but did not include removing most of the existing highway intersections.1 For I-74 to be signed on this road the current highway would need to be upgraded to Interstate standards by replacing the remaining intersections with bridges and/or interchanges. As part of the 2005 Federal transportation legislation, however, NCDOT did receive moneys to upgrade the intersection between NC 242 and US 74/NC 130 (shown below) to a grade-separated interchange. The project was let in July 2010 and construction started on August 30, 2010. The interchange opened in September 2012, though the project was not officially completed until December 31, 2012.2 Though originally without one, in the summer of 2013 an exit number, 228, based on I-74 mileage, was added to the exit signage.3 Here's a photo of the numbered exit signage from May 2014, thanks to Chris Curley:
Photo of the then newly numbered exit sign for new interchange with NC 242, May 2014.
Looking at the intersection of US 74/NC 130 and NC 242 as it existed prior to the new interchange being constructed in 2006. (7/06)
NCDOT first held a workshop on July 11, 2006 to provide local citizens with information about the work and a companion project to upgrade the US 74/76 intersection with NC 211 near Bolton.5 Another meeting occurred on May 27, 2008. Right of way acquisition took place during 2009 with construction, delayed since 2006, starting in July 2010.6 NCDOT, as part of its 2006 press release, said it planned to upgrade US 74 to a 'fully controlled access route' aka freeway, between these two projects. This would imply that, for this segment, the upgrading of about 7 miles of US 74 between the end of the US 74/76 Whiteville Bypass and NC 242. The cost listed for the entire project, $6.8 million, and the project length (.83 miles), however would seem to be too low to include upgrading the rest of US 74 along with building the new interchange.7 There already is an interchange built to the east as part of the previous US 74 upgrade at the intersection with NC 410/US 74 Business/East NC 130 that could potentially serve as an interchange for I-74, cutting down on the project cost.
In December 2008 NCDOT began a project (W-4704) to replace the US 74/Old Kingsdale Road (SR 2210) intersection, about 3 miles to the east of NC 41, with an interchange. Work was completed in the summer of 2010, see photos below. While this project was officially not related to I-74, only referred to as a 'Hazard Elimination', it added and additional five miles of the limited access freeway east of NC 41 (Google maps now indicates this section as a freeway, not simply a divided 4-lane road) with a speed limit upgrade to 70 MPH. This could indicate a piecemeal approach strategy by NCDOT of making US 74 interstate compatible by replacing the remaining 7 intersections between NC 41 and US 76 with interchanges (or closing some of them) gradually over the next several years as funds become available.8 Actions by NCDOT since then tend to support this idea. NCDOT conducted a Feasibility Study about the costs of upgrading this segment (and part of the next, from NC 41 to the Union Cross Road exit on the US 74/76 Whiteville Bypass) to interstate standards, whose recommendations were published in May 2014.9 The study recommended building a 4-lane interstate standard freeway by eliminating the 6 remaining at-grade intersections replacing them either by grade separations or interchanges. The 24-mile study zone was separated into 9 Sections, A to I, with 4 of the sections having two alternate designs. The sections, alternative descriptions and anticipated costs from the report are below:
The Kingsdale reference for Section A is the building of an interchange for the already grade separate road. The remaining alternatives differ as to whether a grade separation or interchange should be built. Since 2014 it appears NCDOT has narrowed the list to include interchanges for most of the sections with alternatives. A project to replace the intersection of US 74 and old US 74 (SR 1574) at the southern part of this segment was started in March 2016. When this was completed in October 2017, US 74 became a limited access highway between the Whiteville Bypass at Exit 235 and NC 242 at Exit 228 with the speed limit of 70 MPH from US 76 extended 6 more miles north from Mile 231 to just prior to the Old Boardman Road intersection (see photo below), which is depicted in the map above. In the 2020-2029 Draft State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) document released in January 2019 there were three projects listed related to upgrading US 74 to freeway standards listed in the above table. A project that will upgrade the intersection at Old Boardman Road to an interchange was to start in 2025, but now has been moved up to 2021. When this project is completed, US 74 will be a freeway throughout Columbus County. In Robeson County, a project to replace the intersection between US 74 and Broadridge Road was awarded in November 2017 (accelerated from 2019). Work started on November 27, 2017 and as of December 15, 2018 was 50.8% complete.10 It is anticipated to be completed in December 2019, and this will extend the freeway south from Lumberton an additional 2 miles. The press release for the project also included text that said this project was part of a continuing process to upgrade US 74 to interstate standards, confirming the piecemeal approach.11 Plans released when the project was advertised for bids show the I-74 exit number will be 219 and that a 70 mph speed limit will start westbound 1 mile before the exit (see below).12 Another project, to start in 2022, will replace the intersections of US 74 with NC 72 and NC 150, currently two intersections, into a combined single exit.13 A public hearing was held about this project in Orrum on December 3, 2018.14 This would leave about a 5 mile stretch with one intersection north of NC 72 (Creek Road, SR 2225) and one intersection just north of the town of Boardman (VC Britt Road, SR 2245) to be upgraded or closed, plus possible reconstruction of at least one of the bridges over the Lumber River and others in the same area, to make the entire highway a freeway that could be then upgraded fairly easily to Interstate Standards. In the summer of 2012, NCDOT replaced the US 74 mileposts along this stretch from mile 214 (and continuing on the US-74/76 Whiteville Bypass and east of Delco, mile 271) with I-74 mile markers, possibly reflecting a desire to upgrade the route to I-74 as soon as possible.15
In January 2019, NCDOT finally posted a funded project for upgrading US 74 between NC 41 and US 76. The Project, I-6055, appeared in the Draft 2020-2029 STIP document among those for Division 8. Right-of-Way purchasing along the corridor is to start in 2025, however construction, to cost around $118 million, part financed by bonds, is not planned to start until 2029. Given that most of the intersection upgrades will have happened by then, the total cost for this project is fairly low, $64.3 million, and thus should not take a long time to complete.16
I-74/US 74 East from NC 41: Using On-Ramp from NC 41 North (July 2013)
US 74/NC 130 West at NC 242: Using On-Ramp from NC 242 North (December 2013)
US 74 West from US 76: Prior to US 76 West Off-Ramp (November 2016)
Here's a photo of the construction progress at Old Kingsdale Road in February 2009 taken from US 74 East. (2/7/09)
Here's the view looking west from a closed Old Kingsdale road going west toward US 74. (2/8/09)
Here's what the construction area looked like in May 2009. Photos courtesy of James Mast:
Looking at the grading for the bridge along US 74 West going the opposite direction. (May 2009)
Here's the same construction seen from West US 74, the first I-74 exit sign can be seen when driving through this project (May 2009). Construction was to be complete in November 2009, but the contract was not completed until April 2010.
This is what the bridge, nearly completed over US 74 looked like in November 2009. There were still orange barrels, barriers and construction equipment indicating the bridge work was not completed yet. This was confirmed by the Construction Progress Report which indicated it was 84% complete at the time of this photo. (11/15/09)
The view from US 74 West shows that some more paving, at least, needs to be done on the bridge, though guardrails have been installed. (11/15/09)
Here is the path of US 74 in this segment, the dots on the map represent cross-street intersections to be closed or interchanges to be built:
Map courtesy of Nick Zachetti, the location of Old Kingsdale Rd is marked by an arrow. The connection to NC 72 and NC 130 West will probably be made through one interchange due to their close proximity.
Tour I-74's future and current route along US 74 in Columbus and Robeson Counties on This Video courtesy of J. Austin Carter, from January 2013.