by Joe Milazzo II, PE, RTA Executive Director
Note: This post was updated on February 9, 2016. This page can be accessed directly via letsgetmoving.org/futureinterstateblog.
Now that we have the long-awaited Congressional authorization for a future Interstate designation from Raleigh to coastal Virginia, a remaining question is this: what Interstate number will it receive? We will get straight to some recommendations for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor, and then offer some background for those who want more information.
One option is to pursue a north-south (i.e., odd-numbered) routing for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor such as Interstate 89 or 93.
The use of a north-south routing is attractive for Raleigh, since this route will be Raleigh’s first direct Interstate connection to I-95 north and the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, and also for Hampton Roads, since this would be coastal Virginia’s first direct Interstate connection to I-95 south.
A north-south Interstate designation would also allow both Raleigh and Hampton Roads to have both an east-west (i.e., I-40 and I-64) and north-south (e.g., I-89) primary Interstate serving their respective metro areas. In addition, a north-south designation would be consistent with the routing used by existing I-495 in Wake County — currently signed as north and south — which a new, north-south Interstate designation like I-89 would likely replace.
Either I-89 or I-93 would be a logical and reasonable choice for a north-south designation and unlikely to create confusion with other NC or VA route numbers or with other Interstate designations. See below for additional background about possible north-south designations.
A second option it to pursue an east-west (i.e., even-numbered) routing for Raleigh-Norfolk such as Interstate 44, 50, or 56.
If NCDOT and VDOT wanted to select a route number that were not in use elsewhere in either state, then only one reasonable option exists: Interstate 44, which also happens to be the assumed or colloquial name for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor. (NC 44 is a temporary designation for the completed portions of the Goldsboro bypass; when that freeway is complete it will have the US 70 designation and NC 44 will be removed). Like I-89 and I-93, I-44 would be a logical and reasonable choice, with the primary issue being whether or not it would create confusion with I-440 in Raleigh.
If NCDOT and VDOT were required to use a new, unique Interstate number that were not in use anywhere else in the US, this which would effectively mean that an even-numbered, east-west designation would be required, as there are no new odd Interstate numbers available between I-85 and I-99 inclusive, and it also would preclude I-44, as that is in use in the western half of the United States. In that case, then a new, unique route number like Interstate 50, 56, or 62 would be required. One source of potential concern with I-50 is the existence of NC 50, also interchanging with I-440 in both northwest and south Raleigh.
See below for more information about possible east-west options. If an east-west Interstate designation were selected, it may be helpful to retain I-495 as a concurrent north-south routing between Raleigh and Rocky Mount to further emphasize the connection to I-95 north from Raleigh.
A primary point of this blog is that there is no obvious, automatic answer for the “best” Interstate designation for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor. However, based on the summary recommendations above and the background information below, there are several reasonable options available, or at least starting points for making a selection.
Below are a few thoughts on the most obvious possibilities for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor.
In terms of a three digit routing, the existing I-495 designation currently in use from Raleigh to Rocky Mount is not a viable possibility for the entire Raleigh-Norfolk corridor, for a number of reasons. One reason is that the longest three-digit Interstate route in the entire US is only 132 miles long (I-476 in eastern Pennsylvania), which would mean that a three digit Raleigh to coastal Va. Interstate would be around 200 miles long, or more than 50% longer than the longest 3-digit interstate in the country. Another reason is that three digit Interstate numbers are reserved for auxiliary Interstates — beltways, spurs, and connectors — and the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor would be none of those. However, the most important reason that I-495 cannot be selected for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor is that Virginia already has an I-495 within its borders: the I-495 Capital Beltway in the Washington, DC metro area in Fairfax County and Alexandria City.
In terms of two digit Interstates, the ideal route number would be one that is not used as an Interstate elsewhere in the US, that lies between 85 and 99 (for odd numbers) or between 40 and 64 (for even numbers), and that is not in use as either a NC, VA, or US route within the two states. Unfortunately, there are no route numbers available that meet all of those criteria.
With no ideal route numbers available, the next best route number would be an Interstate that is not used in the southeastern US, and that is either not used as an NC or VA route, or at least where the NC and VA route does not interchange with US 64, US 17, or I-95 to minimize motorist confusion. It is challenging, but not impossible, to come up with one or more route numbers satisfying these criteria.
North south options A north-south routing has a number of attractive benefits for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor — indeed, existing I-495 between Raleigh and Knightdale is itself signed north-south, not east-west, as is the US 17 portion of the overall corridor. In addition, the use of a north-south routing would be attractive for Raleigh, since this route will be Raleigh’s first direct Interstate connection to I-95 north and the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, and also for Hampton Roads, since this would be coastal Virginia’s first direct Interstate connection to I-95 south. A north-south Interstate designation would also allow both Raleigh and Hampton Roads to have both an east-west (i.e., I-40 and I-64) and north-south (e.g., I-89) primary Interstate serving their respective metro areas.
Unfortunately, there are no unique Interstate route numbers available for a north-south routing, as all of the odd numbers from I-69 to I-99 are already in use somewhere in the United States. Given that the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor will generally serve the area between I-85 and the Atlantic Ocean while crossing I-95, one could logically consider an existing odd numbered, north-south route between I-87 and I-99 that is not currently in use in the southeastern US. Fortunately, every odd-numbered route higher than 85, other than I-95 itself, is only in use in the northeastern states, with several numbers limited to the New England states, so the potential for confusion with a similar route number in the southeast would be limited.
One reasonable option would be Interstate 89, as the existing I-89 is currently in use only in northern New England, extending no further south than the Concord, NH area. This would mean that a southern I-89 from Virginia to North Carolina would be several states and more than 600 miles away from I-89 in the New England states. While both NC 89 and VA 89 exist, they are exclusively in the western portions of the state, lying entirely west and north of I-85.
A similar option would be Interstate 93. This Interstate extends no further south than the Boston metro area at its junction with I-95, which means that a southern I-93 from Virginia to North Carolina would be several states and more than 500 miles away from I-93 in New England. I-93 is next to I-95 in sequence, which would also be helpful, since the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor would cross I-95 at Rocky Mount. While both NC 93 and VA 93 exist, they are exclusively in the western portions of the state, lying entirely west and north of I-85.
A third option is Interstate 91. The existing I-91 route is both longer and extends further south than either I-89 or I-93 — I-91 is within 500 miles of coastal Virginia, while I-89 and I-93 are more than 500 miles away — but otherwise there are no issues with this route as it too is confined to the New England states. NC 91 is in eastern NC, south of both US 64 and US 264. VA route 91 is in western Virginia.
Either I-89, I-91, or I-93 would be fine, assuming the selection of a non-unique Interstate number is a possibility and a north-south routing were desired. If choosing between those three designations, it may be marginally better to go with I-89 for Raleigh-Norfolk to maximize the distance between non-unique Interstates, knowing that I-91 and I-93 would remain available for possible future north-south Interstates lying west of I-95, and recognizing that I-97 or I-99 would remain available for Interstates lying east of I-95.
Another reason to favor I-89 would be from a historical standpoint, given the importance of 1789 to the history of both states (e.g., Virginian George Washington became the nation’s first president, North Carolina joined the union, UNC Chapel Hill became the nation’s first chartered public university, the Bill of Rights authored by Virginian James Madison passed Congress, etc.).
Regarding other odd-numbered possibilities between I-85 and I-99:
- NC 87 interchanges with I-95 as a freeway near Fayetteville, so it would not be ideal
- NC 97 interchanges with both US 64 and I-95, so it would not be ideal
- I-99 would be a possibility; however, NC 99 is located in eastern NC near Williamston, and I-99 is located further south than both I-87 or I-93; plus there may be a desire to reserve I-99 for a future freeway that remains closer to the coast in the southeastern US
East west options In terms of east-west (i.e., even-numbered) two digit Interstates, there are a few reasonable even-numbered options — and if a unique Interstate number is desired or required, an even-numbered routing will be a necessity. Here are a few options.
Interstate 44 has been the assumed or colloquial designation for the corridor and the working name for the initiative to advance the Interstate designation for Raleigh-Norfolk. I-44 has a number of advantages:
- There is no route or highway 44 currently in use in either Virginia or North Carolina (other than the temporary designation for the nearly complete Goldsboro bypass), so it is available
- I-44 would be between I-40 and I-64 in sequence, so it would be a logical route selection for an east-west, even numbered corridor
- Route 44 is the former name for the Virginia Beach-Norfolk Expressway (now I-264), and it is not inconceivable that Virginia might wish to extend the new two-digit primary Interstate designation from Chesapeake or Norfolk (via the I-464 alignment) to the Oceanfront (via the I-264 alignment to Birdneck Road), which would restore the 44 route number.
One potential challenge with I-44 is potential confusion with I-440 in Raleigh itself. Given that the western terminus of the Interstate routing for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor would likely be either at I-440 (exit 14) or at I-40 (exit 301), an I-44 designation would either intersect with or be concurrent with I-440 at its west end. The public may or may not find the similarity of the route numbers between I-440 and I-44 confusing.
A secondary challenge is that I-44 already exists. However, while there is an I-44 is in use elsewhere, all I-44 mileage is located west of the Mississippi River, so confusion with I-44 in the southeastern US is unlikely.
Interstate 50 is an another east-west possibility. Major Interstates end in 0 or 5, so I-50 would give this Interstate added status nationally.
Of interest, the Federal Highway Administration specifically alludes to one reason why there is no I-50 today, noting the concern of having both a US 50 and I-50 in the same state. However, if I-50 were selected for the Raleigh-Norfolk corridor, while Virginia would have both a US 50 and an I-50 within its borders, it would be around 200 miles between US 50 in Arlington County in northern Virginia and an I-50 in Hampton Roads. Still, there is a US Route 50 in Virginia already, so that is not ideal.
A primary challenge with I-50 may again be in Raleigh. North Carolina would have both an NC 50 and and I-50 within the City of Raleigh itself, only a a few miles and exits apart from each other along the I-40/440 Beltline. In addition, NC 50 interchanges with I-95 south of Raleigh.
Interstate 56 is available as a unique, east-west Interstate route not in use elsewhere in the US. While both NC 56 and VA 56 exist, neither route interchanges with I-95, US 64, US 17, or I-64. NC 56 is located in both Nash and Franklin counties, and runs parallel to the US 64 freeway, about 10 miles away at its closest point. Va. 56 is located in west-central Virginia.
Interstate 62 is also available as a unique, east-west route. While both NC 62 and VA 62 exist, neither interchanges with I-95, US 64, US 17, or I-64, and both are located entirely west of the corridor. NC 62 interchanges with I-40 about 60 miles west of Raleigh.
While either I-56 or I-62 would be fine, if an east-west route number were a requirement to ensure a unique Interstate designation, it may be better to go with I-56 for Raleigh-Norfolk, and leave I-62 for future use, for example, for Virginia’s possible future use for the US 58 corridor.
Regarding other even-numbered possibilities between I-40 and I-64:
- NC 42 interchanges with both I-95 and US 64 itself, so it would not be ideal
- NC 46 interchanges with I-95, so it would not be ideal, plus it is the likely route for the Garner-Morehead corridor
- NC 48 interchanges with I-95 in the Rocky Mount area, so it would not be ideal
- There is no NC 52, but there is a US 52 within both North Carolina and Virginia, so it would not be preferred
- VA 54 interchanges with I-95, so it would not be ideal, plus NC 54 is located within Wake County
- NC 58 interchanges with US 64 in Nash County, so it would not be ideal
- There is a US 60 in Virginia, located within the Hampton Roads area, so it would not be ideal