Interstate 285 will be the new designation for the US 52 freeway between I-85 and I-40 when the entire stretch is upgraded to interstate standards sometime in the 2020s. Before the Summer of 2013 it had been hoped the route would be signed by late 2014, see map below:
Map courtesy of NCDOT's Strategic Highway Corridors Website (4)
This future interstate highway will start at the current I-85/Business 85-US 29/52/70 interchange (Exit 87) near Lexington and proceeds north up US 52 to its interchange with I-40 in Winston-Salem. Getting an interstate designation for this highway is part of an effort by Winston-Salem and Davidson County officials to boost economic development in the area.(1) AASHTO approved the I-285 designation on September 8, 2005 after the FHWA approved the number for the highway on June 29 (1,2).
Parts of the highway are currently not up to interstate standards though and will have to be improved before full interstate designation can be applied. Though the highway could have been signed by NCDOT as Future I-285 until a project to upgrade the US 52 freeway to interstate standards was complete, this was not the case. In February 2006, NCDOT instead saved some funds by putting up a few 'Future I-285 Corridor' signs along the route. There is at least one southbound after the I-40 interchange and two going northbound, one at the start of the route in Lexington (click for a Photo of this sign) and another after the NC 8 interchange. NCDOT will apparently wait until the upgrade project is complete to put up official I-285 signs. The Draft 2013-2022 (September 2012) STIP called for this $8.2 million project (Number R-4750), mostly highway shoulder improvements for only 3.8 miles of the route in Davidson County, to start in December 2013.(3)
The start date for the upgrade project has been changed several times. Originally scheduled for 2011 in 2005 (as promoted in the graphic below), the 2007-2013 STIP released in September 2006 moved up the construction date to 2010.(4) However, under revised construction project identifying and funding procedure initiated in 2009 by then new NCDOT Secretary Eugene Conti, a strict 5-Year Construction Project Calendar and a 10-Year Program and Resource Plan were adopted, the I-285 project was then moved back to late 2011. However, no contract was let that year. In 2012 the FY 2013-2022 STIP document put the letting date in 2013 (first in May, then moved to September 2013). However, over the 12-month period between the contract listing and letting, the contract specifications were changed. The project upgrading of the US 52 segment from I-85 to Main Street in Lexington, mostly shoulder widening totaling $7.57 million, was awarded to J.T. Russell & Sons and tied to some unrelated bridge preservation work along the same stretch. Construction is set to begin in March 2014 and be completed in June 2015. Work needed from north of Main Street to I-40 in Winston-Salem, however, was split off as part of separate project, U-2826 (see below), and did not qualify for funds under NCDOT's Strategic Mobility Initiative which ranks construction projects by their statewide, regional, or local importance. This meant the project was not listed in the Draft STIP released in December 2014 covering the years 2016 to 2025, meaning it currently cannot start until at least 2026.(5)
The designation of the route as an interstate was also delayed by AASHTO. Their approval comes after a rejection earlier that year at the May 6, 2005 meeting of AASHTO's Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering of NCDOT's first application to have this route designated first as I-185 in 2003. An I-285 shield for this route first appeared on NCDOT's "Strategic Highway Corridors" Triad Area Vision map of September 2004 with a disclaimer stating the route number had not officially been approved at that time by the FHWA or AASHTO.*(6)
As shown in the Strategic Corridors Triad Area map above, I-285 is shown as extending north another 10 miles through Winston-Salem to what will be the intersection with the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway (I-74/I-274). A note on the map says the "I-285 Shield is Extended from I-40 to I-74 if US 52 is Improved to Interstate Standards."(6) NCDOT now estimates upgrading of this stretch of US 52 would cost at least $500 million.(1) A project to upgrade US 52 appeared in the 2009-2015 STIP, Number U-2826. This would be a design-build project, construction was originally totally unfunded when it first was announced in 2008, however the 2009 State TIP indicated funding for right-of-way had started and that some construction, a new railroad bridge and reconstruction between Stadium Drive and Akron Drive, totaling $14 million, would take place between fiscal years 2010 and 2012. Based on a post in the Yahoo Group SERoads, this project has started, and the bridge is up as of August 2009. The rest of the project is unfunded, meaning it does not appear in the new 2014-2023 STIP.(7)
Map courtesy of the Winston-Salem Journal (www.journalnow.com)(1)