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The Wilmington Bypass is a 25 and 1/2 mile freeway that runs from US 17 near Scotts Hill westward over to I-40 then further west to US 74-76 then south to US 17 near the town of Town Creek. The highway is currently signed as Interstate 140 along part of the western half of its route and designated NC 140 along its eastern half, it also used to be signed as US 17, though that highway was been routed back through Wilmington (see below). The following map showed the completed sections of the route in 2006:
Map courtesy of Wilmingtontoday.com
Four different construction projects were undertaken from 2003 to 2017 to build nearly 25 miles of the Wilmington Bypass route currently open from US 17 at Scotts Hill over I-40, US 421 and US 74/76 back to US 17in Brunswick County. Work began on two projects covering the 6.5 mile I-140 section from I-40 to US 421 in mid-2001. The three-mile section from I-40 to Castle Hayne Road (NC 133) was completed first, with the roadway opened to traffic on August 22, 2005.1 The 3.5 mile section from NC 133 to US 421, including a bridge over the Cape Fear River (named for former Wilmington Mayor Dan Cameron) was opened to traffic on June 30, 2006.2 Construction on the 5 mile section east of I-40, signed as US 17 only, and known as the John J. Burney Jr. Freeway, was started in late 2003 and this section was also opened to traffic on June 30, 2006.2,3 Prior to December 2017 the interchanges along the I-140 section were for I-40, NC 133 and US 421. When the road opened these interchanges did not have exit numbers, these were added in spring or summer of 2007. (An exit list is below.)
Work on the next section from US 421 to US 74-76, approximately 7 miles, was originally scheduled to start in 2009,5 but this segment's construction was delayed until 2014. Instead what was to be the final section, approximately 5 miles from US 74-76 to US 17 near its intersection with NC 87, became the fourth segment to be constructed. Funded through federal stimulus moneys, work began under a design-build contract in late March 2010 (for more details, see below)6 and was completed in September 2014.7 The final section from US 421 to US-74/76 opened in December 19, 2017, the westbound section opening midday and the eastbound section in the evening.8 A ribbon-cutting for the last section was held on December 15, though the road didn't open to the public for another week.9 AASHTO approved the extension of I-140 along the section opened in December and the earlier section between US 74/76 and US 17 on May 21, 2018, 5 months after NCDOT signed it, curiously they did not apply to have I-140 extended east of I-40.10 An additional exit (23) east of I-40 for the Military Cutoff Road Extension, which will become part of a longer planned bypass of Hampstead to the north and signed as NC 417, was opened in late September 2023.11
A future I-140 interchange is planned for Blue Clay Road but is not planned to be built until around 2024. This will take traffic to the Wilmington International Airport.
Here was the official 2007 NCDOT timetable for the construction of the Western Portion of the Wilmington Bypass. The BA and BB sections were completed ahead of this schedule15:
|NC 87 SOUTH OF BISHOP TO US 74/US 76 EAST OF MALMO
|US 74/US 76 EAST OF MALMO TO SR 1430 (CEDAR HILL ROAD)
|(CEDAR HILL ROAD) TO WEST OF US 421 NORTH OF WILMINGTON
|WEST OF US 421 TO EAST OF I-40
The Wilmington Bypass was first proposed as a bypass route for US 17. The route was designed to take through traffic from the crowded Wilmington streets and reroute it around the city. When the route was completed from Scotts Hill to US 421 in 2006, the segment west of I-40 was signed a I-140 and, even though the route was not make it back to the original alignment of US 17 until after 201712, the entire route on both sides of I-40 was designated US 17, with US 17 then routed south on US 421 to its existing alignment. The former US 17 through Wilmington became US 17 Business. Truck US 17, signed along streets in downtown Wilmington, was decommissioned.5 However, in 2014 NCDOT reversed course and proposed that US 17 be re-routed through Wilmington along its old path, with the exception of using Military Cutoff Road and Oleander Drive to make it back to its original crossing over the Cape Fear River Memorial Bridge. The reason stated by NCDOT was that the amount of traffic using Military Cutoff Road justified a route designation. This proposal was endorsed by the region's Transportation Advisory Committee in August 2014.12 NCDOT submitted this request to AASHTO's US Route Numbering Committee which approved the relocation on May 15, 2015.13 Meanwhile, NCDOT designated the entire Bypass route, including the section signed as I-140, as NC 140 on January 14, 2015 citing their wish to have the entire route designated as Interstate 140 in the future.14 The FHWA granted the interstate designation for the western Wilmington Bypass route on May 31, 2003. US 17 signs remained on the Bypass until August 2018, more than 8 months after the entire Bypass was completed. New sections were signed just as I-140 (see photo section) and US 17 was removed from existing overhead signage, such as at the I-40 exit, as shown in this traffic camera photo from September 201815:
In late 2018, NCDOT put up NC 140 signs along the Bypass east of I-40 (see photos below).
A proposed Wilmington end-point for I-74 (and a possible spur of I-74, see More about I-74 Here) would meet I-140 where it would intersect the existing US 74-76 freeway.16
Drive the length of the Bypass during the summer of 2021 with these videos from RoadwayWiz (New 12/26/21):
I-140 East Exits
1 to 10 Exits 10 to 20
I-140 West Exits
20 to 10 Exits
10 to 1
NC 140 West Exits 25 to 20
Travel over the opened section of the Wilmington Bypass on this Video Courtesy of J. Austin Carter Taken in March 2013 (Best using Windows Media Player).
Continue on US 74/US 76 in Brunswick County and check out construction of the next segment of the Wilmington Bypass (and the possible future path of I-74) on this Video Also Courtesy of J. Austin Carter Taken in January 2013 (Best using Windows Media Player).
Signage starting on US 17 North in June 2019, courtesy of J. Austin Carter:
Signage for I-140 along US 17 North at the intersection with NC 87 North.
The signage at the beginning of I-140 East, the blank space over the US 17 shield was to be for Business before US 17 was routed back through Wilmington in 2018 as seen in the sign plans above.
There is also an auxiliary sign for those looking for I-40 on US 17 North.
The first destination distance sign on I-140 North which includes Jacksonville due to the former routing of US 17. Reversing direction:
Signage at the end of I-140 West with Exit 1 being for US 17 North (through traffic defaults onto US 17 South).
Overhead signage at the ramp to US 74/76 in Leland still headed east (north) on I-140.
From US 74/76 interchange in August 2018, courtesy of J. Austin Carter:
Note that these signs do not feature US 17, which is still on other signs, but is officially no longer routed with I-140 and that the ramp construction did not include any major upgrading of US 74/76, which might have been useful if NCDOT decides to route I-74 along US 74/76 to end here.
A ground mounted sign for I-140 East at the left entrance ramp from US 74/76 West.
Google Maps Street View image of 1-Mile advance sign for Mt Misery Road exit, taken in April 2019.
Street View image of the exit sign on I-140 East.
The 1-Mile advance for the next exit, Navassa, via Google Maps Street View.
The exit sign for Navassa, another Street View image from April 2019.
The first advance sign on I-140 East for US 421. The distance is odd due to the length of the bridge approaching the exit. Also from Google Street View in April 2019.
The exit sign at the US 421 exit, the last exit for the final segment of I-140 that opened in late 2017, another Street View image.
The US 421 exit signage heading west:
Signage at the former end of I-140 at US 421, the pull through designed after the decision to remove US 17 from the Bypass. Taken in May 2019 by J. Austin Carter.
The overhead signage at the I-40 exit has been altered after the removal of US 17. The pull through sign used to say End I-140, North US 17. Notice also that the control city for I-40 West has been changed from Benson to Raleigh.
The first (and last) East NC 140 reassurance marker following the I-40 exit.
Street view image of the 1-mile advance sign for the US 17 South exit taken in April 2019. The Business banner has been greened out. Also notice the Exit 1 Mile text, this sign didn't originally have an exit number until the last section of I-140 was completed.
Street view image of the overhead signs at the end of NC 140 East with the new Exit 25 gore sign seen in the distance.
And another Street View image showing the End NC 140 sign approaching the merge with US 17 North.
Approaching the beginning of the Wilmington Bypass on US 17 South in Scott's Hill, Courtesy of J. Austin Carter, June 2019:
A junction NC 140 sign on US 17 South, the shield appears a little to large for the sign, but this may have originally been for US 17 Business.
Overhead signage at once was the end of Business 17 North at the US 17 Wilmington Bypass, the sign on the left has been reconfigured with a NC 140 shield and an West directional banner. And at the I-40 interchange:
A NC 140 mile marker now greets drivers about to head into the C/D lanes for the I-40 interchange. West I-140 officially starts here. A closer view of the removed US 17 shield seen in the traffic camera image above.
From Section Under Construction in March 2013, courtesy of J. Austin Carter:
At the future southern end of I-140 at US 17 near Leland, Looking north along roadbed. Photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter. (3/26/2013)
At the future southern end of I-140 at US 17 near Leland, Looking south at a bend along the road back toward future US 17 interchange. Photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter. (3/26/2013)
At the future southern end of I-140 along US 17 near Leland, Looking at construction from US 17 South. Photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter. (3/26/2013)
This is the future I-140 on-ramp from US 17 near Leland. Photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter. (3/26/2013)
From the current eastbound lanes of US 74/76 showing posts for future 1 mile advance sign for I-140 . Photo courtesy of J. Austin Carter. (3/26/2013)
Along NC 133, Castle Hayne Road, nearing the I-140 interchange, July 2006
Photo of exit signage for the NC 133 interchange along West I-140, May 2006. Since then exit numbers have been added, this is now Exit 18.
Here's signage at the current end of I-140 at US 421, July 2006. Photo courtesy of Adam Prince.
Here's a Begin I-140 sign in the distance as you start crossing the Dan Cameron Bridge going east. Photo courtesy of Jon Meisenhelder.
And since all things that begin must end, here's the eastbound End I-140 sign at I-40. Photo courtesy of John Meisenhelder, Nov. 2007.
This is one of the I-140 East mile markers, Mile 16. Photo courtesy of John Meisenhelder, Nov. 2007.
Here's the signage at the start of the Loop in Scott's Hill that reflected NCDOT's initial decision to route US 17 onto, but leave I-140 off of, the eastern half of the Wilmington Bypass. (July 2006)
The NCDOT Strategic Highway Corridor map of the Wilmington area in 2011 showed I-140 being extended 9.5 miles over the proposed Cape Fear Skyway south and east back over the Cape Fear River to US 421. (See map below).18 This is NCTA's preferred route for the Skyway, one of several proposed projects of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTA) and would be constructed as a toll highway. The preferred route of the Skyway bridge would run from Carolina Beach Road at Independence Boulevard south of Wilmington over the Cape Fear River. It would then connect to US 17 through an 8-mile-long extension of Interstate 140 from it's current planned end near Town Creek. This alignment has not been finalized (see below), however, and other routes do not have the toll highway meeting I-140. The project, if officially approved, is expected to cost between $1 and 1.5 billion and would take five years to build, the earliest construction would start is 2013.19 A feasibility study completed during the summer of 2008 indicated only about 50% of the construction could be funded by tolls. Additional funding from the state would be needed.20 More information is available at the official NC Turnpike Authority Cape Fear Skyway Page.
NCDOT announced in July 2009 that federal stimulus funds would help start further construction on I-140/US 17. The next section to be constructed though was not going to be from US 421 to US 74/76, Segment "B", but the section between US 74/76 and US 17 near NC 87, Segment "A''. This is a design/build construction project which began in March 2010. This segment was more 'shovel ready' and able to receive stimulus funds. The project was completed in September 2014. Segment "B" was complicated by another water crossing and later, environmental litigation. Work finally began in the Fall of 2014, meaning there was a gap in the route for more than three years.22 The entire route, though officially not to be complete until the summer of 2018, was opened to traffic on December 19, 2017.8
This is not the first route NCDOT proposed as I-140. In 1999, officials in Sanford wanted the newly completed US 1 freeway from Raleigh to their city designated an interstate to help attract further business. NCDOT applied to the FHWA to have the freeway designated as Interstate 140. The FHWA rejected the designation, however, saying Sanford was not a large enough urban area to warrant its own interstate highway. Perhaps some day if all of US 1 is made a freeway between I-40 in Raleigh and I-73/74 in Rockingham (as proposed in the NCDOT Strategic Highway Corridors plan) then someone may suggest revisiting a US 1 interstate designation proposal.