From the end of the I-74 freeway near Mt. Airy, I-74 is to use the current US 52 freeway to just north of Winston-Salem. This freeway was originally built in 1960s and is not up to current interstate standards1 (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, see this AASHTO page).
Early Attempt to Sign US 52 as Interstate 74
When the routes for I-73 and I-74 were finally agreed to in 1996, NCDOT asked that US 52 be signed as Interstate 74 south to NC 65 (where I-74 is to be routed off onto the eastern half of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway, See the I-74 Segment 4 page) and the US 52 freeway through Winston-Salem to I-40 signed as 'Temporary I-74.' This last proposal was rejected by AASHTO, however, which suggested that this part of US 52 could simply be signed 'To I-74'.2 The FHWA then refused to allow NCDOT to sign the rest of US 52 as I-74 because the road was not to interstate standards, nor Future I-74 because projects to upgrade the road were unfunded. Instead, they allowed NCDOT to sign the route as a 'Future I-74 Corridor.' An example of one of these signs is below. In order for NCDOT to sign the route at least as Future I-74, projects to improve the freeway must be funded in the state's transportation program. A project to upgrade the highway had been listed in the yearly State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) documents starting in 1999, but as unfunded. That project, No. I-4404, to upgrade the roadway to interstate standards was estimated to cost $101 million for both right-of way and construction.3 Given the revised NCDOT STIP procedure enacted in 2012 that only funded highway projects with construction to start within the next ten years are listed, this project has not appeared since, up to the latest 2020-2029 STIP released in September 2019.
NCDOT Studying Other Alternatives
In the Draft STIP released in September 2012, a new listing appeared for this segment, a scheduled Feasibility Study (No. FS-1209A) to look further into the best ways of upgrading the 21.3 mile corridor to interstate standards.4 Looking through NCDOT's list of feasibility studies, there is no listing for FS-1209A (or under I-4404), indicating that this study was never released. In reality, the highway's shoulders in Forsyth and Stokes Counties are actually quite close to interstate standard widths, after a recent upgrading of the road. In 2010 further construction work was done to upgrade the shoulders along with repaving the highway. The southern end of these projects were near the location of the planned Winston-Salem Northern Beltway (near NC 65). US 52 south of there is being upgraded to remove some of the problem interchanges, but this project to bring the road up to interstate standards is unrelated to I-74, go to my Interstate 285 page for more details. In 2011, a new interchange was opened up on US 52 in the town of King. The interchange and roadway 1/4 mile surrounding it were built to interstate standards (see photos below). Further projects to replace currently substandard bridges in both Forsyth and Stokes are underway or planned including the replacing of the bridge carrying NC 65 (Bethania-Rural Hall Road) over US 52. Work started in 2017 and will upgrade US 52 around the bridge from mile markers 114 to 116. Work is supposed to be completed in September 2019.5
New Moneys Move Up Beltway Interchange
Work, but not US 52 Upgrade
In the fall of 2015, NC Governor McCrory announced changes made to the state's budgeting process that allows for greater funding for NCDOT construction projects. Among the projects highlighted to be completely funded was the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway (see I-74 Segment 4) which would meet US 52 as part of a revised NC 65 interchange. With the approval of the newly funded projects by the Board of Transportation in January 2016, NCDOT scheduled a Design-Build project (R-2247ED) to reconstruct the NC 65 exit for the future US 52/Northern Beltway interchange to be let on September 20, 2016 and to start later in the fall of 2016.6 In 2018, NCDOT announced it had moved up the schedule for completing the Eastern Section of the Beltway and let contracts to build the remaining formerly unfunded sections from US 311 to US 52. Work is to be completed by 2023. An NCDOT official in discussing the awarding of the contract to build the I-74/US 52 interchange said that upgrading US 52 to interstate standards, though a subject of state highway planners, was still a long-term project. He mentioned the need to widen shoulders, upgrade certain bridges, and that the hilly terrain in some areas might have to be leveled. He gave no timetable for this work.7 In another newspaper article in July of 2019, NCDOT Pat Ivey, the division engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth County also expressed that updating US 52 was a long-term project but that “At the very least, (we should have) enough ‘future’ signage to where everyone will know this is I-74.”8
Comment: Once the Beltway is completed, NCDOT should at least change
US 52's exit numbers to those reflecting I-74's mileage since those
will be used on surrounding segments. US 52 between the Beltway and
Mount Airy should be signed, as AASHTO approved them to do in 1997, as
'To (East or West) I-74.' This would provide a continuous freeway
route with I-74 signs from the Virginia border south and east to
Rockingham. [Currently, as part of the signage upgrade to US 311 when
it officially became I-74 in 2014, signs were added to both US 52
South prior to I-40 and to I-40 West prior to the US 52 exit which
listed 'To I-74 Use (the I-40 East or US 52 North) Exit.]
I-74 East at US 52: Prior to US 52 North Exit (May 2018)
Future I-74 East at King/Tobaccoville Exit: Prior to US 52 South Off-Ramp (June 2019)
Future I-74 West at NC 65: From US 52 North Off-Ramp to NC 65 (June 2019)
Heading North on US 52, taken in June 2019:
The exit sign for the Westinghouse Road, the first exit after the future Beltway interchange. The shoulders here appear close to interstate standard.
The exit sign for Moore-RJR Drive, the last exit in Forsyth County.
The blue services sign for the Moore-RJR Drive exit showing that there is a Sheetz along Future I-74.
The exit sign for the King/Tobaccoville exit, at the start of the Interstate Standard section surrounding the revised 2011 interchange/bridge (see additional photos below).
The 1-Mile advance sign for the Pinnacle exit, with the pinnacle of Pilot Mountain seen in the distance.
New bridges for crossing the Little Yadkin River in Pinnacle, built to interstate standards along with surrounding roadway.
The gore sign for the Pinnacle exit with the Pilot Mountain pinnacle in the distance. The shoulders back to less than interstate standard width.
Brown 1/2 mile advance sign for Pilot Mountain State Park, the earlier signage did not feature an exit number tab.
The 1-Mile advance sign for NC 268, all the advance signs do not have exit tabs.
The only place you'll find out the exit number for NC 268 is at the gore sign heading north.
The 1-Mile advance sign for the Cook School Road exit with different length support posts.
The ground mounted 2-miles advance sign for I-74 West. The remaining signs are overhead, see photos below.
The 1/4 mile advance for the left side Mount Airy exit, this will probably have to be reconstructed before this section can become I-74.
View of Pilot Mountain from Northbound US 52 Scenic Overlook, Stokes County. View taken on 10/24/10, when freeway was undergoing rehabilitation including extending the width of shoulders (using gravel) that may make the signing of the route as I-74 easier to do in the future.
New signage at the northern end of the segment at the US 52 Exit. This signage was placed in the Summer of 2010 and corrects the previous sign which had the duplicative words To I-77, To Wytheville. (10/24/10)
The signs at the US 52 ramp. The I-74 Exit sign was corrected too. The exit tab design makes it easy to transfer the tab to the other sign (and revised to Exit 17) when the segment is declared an interstate. (10/24/10)
Typical US 52 interchange signage, this for US 52 South (Future I-74 East) in Pinnacle, current Exit 129.
The then new 2011 bridge over US 52 at King. The freeway surrounding the new interchange was rebuilt to interstate standards.
View of US 52 North (Future I-74 West) after the King interchange bridge showing modern interstate design of highway.
New exit signage for modified King/Tobaccoville exit. The signs are up to standards, they await new exit numbers when the freeway becomes I-74 East.
This is the first 'Future I-74 Corridor' sign along US 52 South near Mt. Airy. Photo courtesy of H.B. Elkins. (2004) (Still standing as of May 2018).