Where: US 52, I-74 interchange, south of Mt. Airy, Surry County to NC 65 near Winston-Salem, Forsyth County
Length: 24 Miles
Needed: Upgrade to Interstate Standards
Work to Start: After 2033?
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 after 2012, there has been 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 as part of the project building the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway . Work was completed in late 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 As part of the contract building the Beltway, substandard shoulders along US 52 between the future interchange and the upgraded highway at the King/Tobaccoville exit in Forsyth County were widened in the early summer of 2021 (see July 2021 photos below) as part of a project that also repaired some of the concrete roadway slabs. No other project is currently listed as funded for further improvements to US 52 in Stokes and Surry Counties however in the Draft 2024-2033 STIP released in June 2022, meaning, officially, work is not planned until after 2033.
A Few Steps Forward
In August 2022, NCDOT released plans for the letting of the last segment of the I-74 section of the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway. Among those plans were new exit numbers to be assigned to US 52 based on I-74 mileage. They were not, however, signing the route as I-74. Instead they are to place Future I-74 signs along the route in both directions. Here are sign plans for that sign and the new exit number tabs, heading east:
Plan for Future I-74 sign to go up along both sides of US 52.
The plans show that I-74 will get the new number, exiting itself, similar to what happens with I-73 in Greensboro. Perhaps this will change when I-74 is routed along US 52.
The plans for the 1 1/4 Miles advance sign for Cook School Road, to be Exit 20.
The plans for the 1/4 Mile advance sign for the Pilot Mountain Left Exit on US 52 South, to be Exit 21.
The plans for the exit and gore signs for the NC 268 Exit on US 52 North, to be Exit 23.
The plans for the 1/4 Mile advance sign for the Pilot Mountain State Park Left Exit on US 52 South, to be Exit 26. Why can't the gore signs be brown as well?
The plans for the 1 Mile advance sign for the Pinnacle exit on US 52, to be Exit 28.
The plans for the exit and gore sign for the King/Tobaccoville exit on US 52 South, to be Exit 33.
The plans for the 1 Mile advance sign for the Moore-RJR Drive exit on US 52, to be Exit 34.
The exit sign for Westinghouse Road (current Exit 120) and NC 65
(current Exit 118) are part of the design-build contract for the Beltway
interchange with US 52 and have no published plans. I assume the first
will become Exit 36 and the latter Exit 38 or 39 (the Beltway exit is to
Comment: NCDOT should change US 52's exit numbers to those
reflecting I-74's mileage once the Beltway connects with US 52 in 2023
and not wait, as the plans discussed above suggest, until the entire
eastern Beltway section is completed. They should also, instead of the
planned Future I-74 signs, put up 'To East I-74' or 'To West I-74'
signs to connect the route to surrounding completed segments. AASHTO
approved them to do just this in 1997.This would provide a continuous
freeway route with I-74 signs from the Virginia border south and east
to Winston-Salem (and eventually, Rockingham). [Currently, as part of
the signage upgrade to the then US 311 freeway 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, see Segment 5 page for
I-74 East at US 52: Prior to US 52 North Exit (October 2021)
Future I-74 East at King/Tobaccoville Exit: Prior to US 52 South Off-Ramp (September 2021)
Future I-74 West at NC 65: From new US 52 North Off-Ramp to NC 65 (September 2021)
Taken during the summer of 2021. Judge for yourself how close the segment is to Interstate standards.
US 52 North: Exits 111 to 120 Exits 120 to 129 Exits 129 to 141 (Includes part of Andy Griffith Pkwy)
US 52 South: Exits 141 to 129 Exits 129 to 120 Exits 120 to 111 (Includes part of Future I-285)
Taken during road trip around Winston-Salem on October 14, 2022:
US 52 North lanes after the NC 65 bridge with NC 65 on-ramp traffic to the right, road being widened as part of the Winston-Salem Beltway interchange project.
Truck trailers line ramp from NC 65 below completed landscaping and noise walls along US 52 North (Future I-74 West).
A closer look at the completed noise walls approaching the merge with the NC 65 on-ramp.
Merging with the NC 65 exit ramp on US 52 North (Future I-74 West).
Widening of US 52 North (Future I-74 West) lanes continues on after the NC 65 exit.
Widening of US 52 North (Future I-74 West) lanes between the NC 65 and Westinghouse Road exits.
Nearing the end of future widening of US 52 North (Future I-74 West) lanes at the Westinghouse Road exit.
About to enter US 52 South (Future I-74 East) from the Westinghouse Road exit, construction barrels line the ramp.
Widening of US 52 South beyond the Westinghouse Road exit, new lane partially graded, but not paved yet.
Widening continues towards the NC 65 exit, 1 mile advance sign seen in the distance. Landscaping looks mostly complete.
US 52 South (Future I-74 East) approaching the NC 65 exit.
Widening of US 52 South (Future I-74 East) about to end at the NC 65 exit ramp.
Temporary signage at the NC 65 exit ramp.
Now on the new US 52 South lanes approaching the NC 65 bridge.
New US 52 South and North (Future I-74 West) lanes still under construction under the NC 65 bridge.
NC 65 exit on-ramp traffic merges with US 52 South ahead of future Beltway interchange.
This US 52 pull through marks the future site of the off-ramp for I-74 East heading for the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway.
Images taken from Google Maps Street View approaching the future I-74/Winston-Salem Northern Beltway interchange, May 2022:
The NC 65 exit sign sits prior to its original ramp, now 1/2 mile further down US 52 due to interchange reconstruction. New NC 65 bridge in the distance.
View of new NC 65 exit sign after entering US 52 South from new interchange ramp.
Heading toward the future I-74/Beltway exit after going under new NC 65 bridge.
View looking south from new NC 65 bridge toward location of future I-74/ Winston-Salem Northern Beltway interchange.
Looking north at current exit ramp for NC 65 with future lanes for I-74 West/US 52 North beyond.
Photo from NCDOT Traffic Camera, taken on October 8, 2021:
Traffic camera showing completion of shoulder widening work on US 52 just north of the Future Beltway interchange.
Photos taken by Val Melvin on July 12 and 13, 2021:
Newly widened right shoulder along US 52 North (Future I-74 West) after the Westinghouse Road exit in Forsyth County.
Another view of widened shoulders further north.
Newly widened shoulders along US 52 North ending at location of rebuilt bridge where shoulders were brought up to interstate standards a couple years ago (traffic backed up on US 52 South due to upcoming bridge demolition, see photos below).
New wider shoulders resume along US 52 North (Future I-74 West) just prior to the Moore-RJR Drive exit.
New wider shoulders continue along US 52 North (Future I-74 West) after the Moore-RJR Drive exit to the previously reconstructed King-Tobaccoville exit that is up to Interstate standards.
The previously completed bridge over US 52 North (Future I-74 West) at the King-Tobaccoville exit just prior to entering Stokes County.
Shoulders along US 52 North (Future I-74 West) in Stokes County appear Interstate standard.
View along US 52 North (Future I-74 West) of Pilot Mountain.
Another image of Pilot Mountain approaching the Pinnacle exit in Stokes County, the roadway appears Interstate standard.
US 52 North (Future I-74 West) after the Pinnacle Exit and about to enter Surry County.
The brown 1/2 Mile advance sign for Pilot Mountain State Park.
The brown exit sign for Pilot Mountain State Park is followed by a green gore sign. The exit number will change when this becomes I-74 (which may require bringing this exit up to Interstate standards).
The 1 Mile advance sign for the NC 268 exit in Pilot Mountain, note the lack of an exit tab, will make this exit easier to renumber.
The NC 268 exit sign on US 52 North (Future I-74 West) also lacks an exit tab.
Turning around and heading back on South US 52 (Future I-74 East) toward Winston Salem.
South US 52 (Future I-74 East) about to enter Stokes County.
Bridge over US 52 in process of being demolished north of the Moore-RJR Drive exit in Forsyth County (bridge was demolished over the week of July 26-30).
US 52 South (Future I-74 East) approaching the Moore-RJR Drive exit.
Widened shoulder along US 52 South (Future I-74 East) approaching the Westinghouse Road exit.
Shoulder work continuing on US 52 South (Future I-74 East) approaching the Westinghouse Road exit.
Entering the Winston-Salem Beltway interchange work zone along US 52 South (Future I-74 East).
Taken by Val Melvin from Pilot Mountain, April 25, 2021:
Looking down at US 52 freeway as seen from top of Pilot Mountain.
US 52 / Winston-Salem Northern Beltway interchange construction,
Projects are under way at the southern end of this segment to construct future interchange with the Winston-Salem Northern Beltway
Photos taken along US 52 by David Johnson, September 11, 2020:
Construction barrels at start of work zone along US 52 North for Winston-Salem Beltway interchange construction.
More construction barrels on both sides of the highway approaching the NC 65 exit.
New NC 65 bridge over US 52 and relocated NC 65 exit ramp built as part of the Beltway interchange project.
View of noise walls being constructed along US 52 North north of the future Beltway interchange along new exit ramp to NC 65.
To the right is the future ramp that will carry I-74 West from the Beltway to US 52 North with more noise walls.
Construction continues along US 52 North to widen the highway after the interchange.
Work continues along US 52 North after post-interchange distance sign showing 26 miles to Mount Airy.
Widening work continues along US 52 North until the Westinghouse Road exit.
Turning around at Westinghouse Road, showing widening work along US 52 North.
Widening work along US 52 South at end of ramp from Westinghouse Road.
Widening work along US 52 South around 1-Mile advance sign for the NC 65 exit.
Looking across at widening work along US 52 North.
Approaching the new US 52 South exit ramp to NC 65 and the Beltway interchange work zone.
Passing the new US 52 South exit ramp to NC 65.
Approaching the new NC 65 bridge over US 52. Notice the old exit ramp to the right beyond the jersey barrier.
Driving under the new NC 65 bridge over US 52. Work on the future Beltway interchange can be seen to the right.
Supports for future I-74/Beltway interchange over US 52 and grading of future ramp area to the right of the southbound lanes.
A closer look at the grading and clearing of the ground for the new interchange from US 52 South.
New southbound US 52 bridge over railroad tracks being constructed to right of current lanes.
Closer look at future southbound US 52 bridge over railroad tracks being constructed to right of current lanes.
Southbound US 52 (and Future I-285) lanes beyond the Future Beltway construction zone.
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).