Interstate 26 in North Carolina

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Interstate 26

I-26 highlighted in red and Future I-26 highlighted in blue
Route information
Maintained by NCDOT
Length52.69 mi[1] (84.80 km)
I-26 Scenic Highway
NHSEntire route
Major junctions
West end I-26 / US 23 at the Tennessee line near Faust
Major intersections
East end I-26 at the South Carolina line near Landrum, SC
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
CountiesMadison, Buncombe, Henderson, Polk
Highway system
US 25 NC 27

Interstate 26 (I-26) in North Carolina runs through the western part of the state from the Tennessee border to the South Carolina border, following the Appalachian Mountains. It is part of the larger I-26, a regional Interstate that runs from Kingsport, Tennessee, to Charleston, South Carolina. I-26 is mostly four lanes through North Carolina with few exceptions. Though signed with east–west cardinal directions (because of the even number convention), in North Carolina and Tennessee, the route goes nearly north–south, with the northern direction labeled "West" and vice versa.

Within Madison County, I-26 is officially dedicated/memorialized as the Liston B. Ramsey Freeway on the section that over laps with US Highway 23 (US 23).[3]

I-26's original western terminus was I-40/I-240 in Asheville. Between 2003 and 2005, the road was extended further north into Tennessee. Along the segment from Mars Hill to Asheville, there are future I-26 signs as some parts of the road have not yet been upgraded to Interstate Highway standards.

Route description

I-26 in Polk County looking over Skyuka Mountain

I-26, in concurrency with US 23, enters the state at Sams Gap (elevation 3,760 ft or 1,150 m) from Tennessee. In the first nine miles (14 km), designated as a scenic byway, it features mostly six travel lanes and three runaway truck ramps going eastbound. The freeway is also parallels US 23A, which was the original route before 2006. At exit 13, I-26 ends and Future I-26 begins; US 19 also joins from Burnsville.

At Weaverville, Future I-26 merges with US 25/US 70, coming from Marshall; however, US 25 soon disembarks in Woodfin and continues south along Merrimon Avenue. Future I-26 enters Asheville, while parallel with the French Broad River, and merges with westbound I-240/US 74A with US 19/US 23; US 70 ends its concurrency by going eastbound I-240/US 74A instead and an additional exit at the major interchange provides access to downtown Asheville via Patton Avenue. It is signed I-26 proper again without future designation after merging with I-240, although NCDOT still officially refers to this semgent as Future I-26.

Crossing the French Broad River along Capt. Jeff Bowen Bridge (originally Smokey Park Highway Bridge before 2012), I-26/I-240 promptly exit with two lanes to the right (same for both directions) while US 19/US 23/US 74A continue along Patton Avenue (exit 3). The interchange also features warning lights for "stopped traffic ahead", a common condition during rush hour. Between Patton Avenue (exit 3) and Haywood Road (exit 2), I-26/I-240 share a hidden concurrency with US 19 Business (US 19 Bus.)/US 23 Bus.

At the major interchange with I-40, sometimes called Malfunction Junction,[4] I-240 ends, with new concurrency of I-26 with US 74. The interchange features left exit and entrances; while travelers along eastbound I-26/westbound I-240, access to eastbound I-40 is via North Carolina Highway 191 (NC 191, Brevard Road, exit 1). Westbound I-40/US 74 continues on to Canton and Knoxville; eastbound I-40 provides access to nearby Biltmore Estate and further on to Hickory.

Near milemarker 36, the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses over I-26 with a 75.1-foot (22.9 m) clearance; access to the Blue Ridge Parkway is via NC 191 (exit 33).[5]

In Fletcher, I-26 goes by Asheville Regional Airport and accesses NC 280 to Brevard and Mills River (exit 40); 3.2 miles (5.1 km) later, US 25 rejoins (exit 44). In Hendersonville, it connects with US 64, which connect travelers to nearby Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, and Brevard. Between milemarkers 53 and 54, I-26 crosses the Eastern Continental Divide (elevation 2,130 ft or 650 m) at the County Road 1803 (CR 1803, Crest Road) overpass. Near East Flat Rock, US 25 separates again toward Greenville, South Carolina, while I-26 goes southeasterly down along Dodging Hill and crosses over the Green River along the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge, with a 235-foot (72 m) clearance from the river, making it the highest bridge in North Carolina.[6]

At Howard Gap (elevation around 1,900 ft or 580 m), an additional truck lane is available on westbound I-26 for three miles (4.8 km). In Columbus, US 74 ends concurrency at exit 67, continuing east toward Shelby. At 71.4 miles (114.9 km), which combines I-26 and Future I-26, I-26 crosses the state line and into South Carolina.[7][8]

Aerial view of Asheville Regional Airport with I-26/US 74 on the right

I-26 also make up part of Corridor B in the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS). Corridor B connects I-40, in Asheville with US 23, near Lucasville, Ohio; it overlaps nine miles (14 km) of I-26 and 22 miles (35 km) of Future I-26. The ADHS provides additional funds, as authorized by Congress, which have enabled I-26 to benefit from the successive improvements and widening along its routing within the corridor. The white-on-blue banner "Appalachian Highway" is used to mark the ADHS corridor.[9]

I-26 overlaps with one state scenic byway simply known as the "I-26 Scenic Byway". Located from the Tennessee state line to exit 9 (US 19/US 23A) near Mars Hill. The byway is known for its unspoiled views of the North Carolina Mountains.[10]


I-26 appeared in the original Interstate Highway plans running from Charleston to Asheville. The road was first mapped as an under construction highway from US 25 near Hendersonville north to NC 280 (current NC 146). The first segment opened in 1966 beginning at NC 280 to the US 25 connector near East Flat Rock. In 1969, I-26 was extended north to I-40, and the South Carolina segment was extended to NC 108 near Columbus. In 1973, I-26 was extended from the US 25 connector to Saluda. Three years later, I-26 was connected. The segment from Saluda to NC 108 was completed. In late 2003, when the Madison County section opened, the Buncombe County section received the designation "Future I-26" because it did not meet Interstate standards. Starting in 2021, the section north of Asheville is scheduled for upgrades.[11]

Building through Howard Gap

One of the hardest places to build I-26 was in Howard Gap. The work was delayed by numerous landslides along Miller Mountain and Tryon Peak. Special engineering had to be done to continue work on I-26 through the area. The most important part was controlling the soil and water on the mountains and surrounding areas. This was achieved through the installation of miles of underground pipe used to drain water from the road.


In 2013, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) reopened the idea of widening I-26 from I-40, in Asheville, to US 25, near Flat Rock. The project had been planned 10 years earlier but was stopped by legal challenges. In 2015, it qualified and became part of the 2016–2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and will cost $396 million to build. Right-of-way acquisition begins in 2018, with construction that was originally set to begin in 2020.[12] Construction began sooner than that in October 2019, although it did not extend to US 25 in Flat Rock; it instead terminated at US 64 in Hendersonville. Part of the project does call for the US 25/US 25 Bus. interchange near Naples to be converted into a diverging diamond interchange. Construction is projected to be completed by 2024 at a cost of $531 million.[13]

The I-26 Connector is a $600–$800 million project to build the missing gap of I-26 through Asheville. Broken into three sections, they are all planned and funded in the 2016–2025 STIP. Section A, between Haywood and Brevard roads, will be a widening project with reconfiguration of ramps at Haywood, Amboy, and Brevard roads. Section B, between north of Haywood Road to US 19/US 23/US 70, is the most expensive section of the project, at $332 million. After a review of various alternative designs, both state and federal agencies choose Alternative 4B, which will convert Patton Avenue along Bowen Bridges to local traffic and reroute I-240 along I-26 further north.[14] Section C, the I-26/I-240/I-40 interchange, will be reconfigured to include missing ramp connects and a widening of I-40 through the area. The approximately seven-mile (11 km) project will begin right-of-way acquisition in 2019, with construction on all three sections in 2021.[15][16]

Another project, between Broadway Avenue and the US 19/US 23A interchanges, will be upgraded to Interstate standards by replacing bridges, expanding the highway width and adding shoulders. The project, needed so I-26 can fully be labeled along that stretch, is currently in development. The estimated cost was $99 million, with right-of-way acquisition starting in 2020 and construction in 2022.[12][17] Delays included state money and worries over how neighborhoods would be affected. Contracts are to be awarded in 2023 and 2024 and construction to take three to five years. The estimated cost increased to $1.2 billion in 2023.[18]

Exit list

CountyLocationmikmOld exitNew exitDestinationsNotes

I-26 west / US 23 north – Johnson City
Continuation into Tennessee; crosses through Sam's Gap
US 23A south – Wolf Laurel

US 19 north / US 23A north – Burnsville, Spruce Pine
North end of US 19 overlap
Mars Hill10.917.511 NC 213 – Mars Hill, Marshall
Buncombe13.221.213Forks of Ivy
Route transition from I-26 to Future I-26[19]
Flat Creek15 NC 197 – Jupiter, BarnardsvilleExisting interchanges of US 19/US 23 (upgrade to interstate standards, funded)[17]
Stocksville17Flat Creek

US 19 Bus. south / Monticello Road – Weaverville

US 25 north / US 70 west – Marshall, Weaverville
21New Stock Road – Weaverville

US 25 south / US 19 Bus. north (Merrimon Avenue) – Woodfin, North Asheville
24Elk Mountain Road  Woodfin
Asheville25 NC 251 – UNC Asheville
Hill Street

I-240 / US 70 / US 74A east / Patton Avenue
Existing interchanges of I-240 (realign and upgrade to interstate standards, funded)[15]
3BWestgate / Resort Drive

US 19 / US 23 south / US 74A west (Patton Avenue)

US 19 Bus. / US 23 Bus. begin

US 19 Bus. / US 23 Bus. south (Haywood Street) – West Asheville
1CAmboy Road
NC 191 (Brevard Road) to I-40
Route transition from Future I-26 to I-26[19]

I-40 west / US 74 west – Canton, Knoxville
West end of I-240 / US 74 overlap
I-40 east – Hickory, Biltmore Estate
Westbound exit and eastbound entrance
33.053.1233 NC 191 / Blue Ridge ParkwayTo Asheville Outlets
35Frederick Law Olmsted Way EastNew interchange to be under construction in Spring 2023; left hand exit and entrance ramps northbound
37.760.7637 NC 146 / Long Shoals Road – Skyland
Arden40.865.7940 NC 280 – Asheville Regional Airport, Arden, BrevardTo WNC Agriculture Center

US 25 north / US 25 Bus. south – Fletcher, Mountain Home
North end of US 25 overlap
Hendersonville49.980.31849 US 64 – Hendersonville, Bat CaveSigned as exits 49A (east) and 49B (west)
53.485.92253Upward Road – Hendersonville

US 25 south to US 176 / NC 225 – Greenville
South end of US 25 overlap; to Carl Sandburg Home and Flat Rock Playhouse
Green River56.590.9Peter Guice Memorial Bridge
US 74 east – Forest City, Shelby
Westbound exit[20]
US 74 east / NC 108 – Columbus, Rutherfordton, Tryon
East end of US 74 overlap
I-26 east – Spartanburg
Continuation into South Carolina
1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi

See also


  1. ^ Starks, Edward (January 27, 2022). "Table 1: Main Routes of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways". FHWA Route Log and Finder List. Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  2. ^ "I-26 Fact Sheet" (PDF). North Carolina Department of Transportation. June 21, 2008. Archived from the original on June 21, 2008. Retrieved June 20, 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. ^ "North Carolina Memorial Highways and other Named Facilities" (PDF). North Carolina Department of Transportation. July 15, 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 29, 2012. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  4. ^ Boyle, John (October 2, 2016). "Answer Man: Hope for Exit 44 area on I-40? Republicans first?". Asheville Citizen-Times. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  5. ^ " Blue Ridge Parkway over I-26". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  6. ^ " Peter Guice Memorial Bridge". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  7. ^ Google (November 29, 2013). "Overview Map of I-26 in North Carolina" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  8. ^ "Guide to Geologic Points of Interest Along Interstate 26". North Carolina Geologic Survey. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  9. ^ "Status of Corridors in North Carolina" (PDF). Appalachian Regional Commission. September 30, 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 3, 2015. Retrieved October 25, 2014.
  10. ^ "NCDOT: Scenic Byways". Archived from the original on January 25, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  11. ^ Boyle, John (July 10, 2018). "Answer Man: Will 'Future I-26' ever be 'Just 26?' Are medical inhalers recyclable?". Asheville Citizen-Times. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "2016-2025 State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) - Division 13" (PDF). North Carolina Department of Transportation. June 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 16, 2016. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  13. ^ "NCDOT: I-26 Widening". NCDOT. Retrieved 17 May 2023.
  14. ^ Barrett, Mark (May 19, 2016). "Connector route taking traffic off Bowen Bridge picked". Asheville Citizen-Times. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "I-26 Connector, Asheville, NC". Project Details. North Carolina Department of Transportation. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  16. ^ "I-26 Connector Visualization". North Carolina Department of Transportation. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  17. ^ a b "US 19/23 (Future I-26) Improvements Project". Project Details. North Carolina Department of Transportation. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  18. ^ Burgess, Joel (February 12, 2023). "Answer Man: Asheville I-26 connector project update?". Asheville Citizen-Times.
  19. ^ a b Fraboni, Frank (August 10, 2020). "Why is part of I-26 still called Future 26?". Asheville, NC: WLOS. Retrieved August 12, 2020.
  20. ^ "NCDOT I-4729A Signing Plans" (PDF). Retrieved March 10, 2018.

External links

Interstate 26
Previous state:
North Carolina Next state:
South Carolina