Interstate 77 or I -77 is an Interstate Highway in the U.S. state of North Carolina. The highway forms a north-south route in the west of the state, including through the Charlotte metropolitan area. The route is 169 kilometers long.
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I-77 in Charlotte.
I-77 north of Statesville.
Interstate 77 in South Carolina comes from Columbia and enters directly into the Charlotte metropolitan area at the North Carolina border, I-77 already has 2×4 lanes at this point. After 2 kilometers there is already a junction with Interstate 485, which forms the Charlotte ring road. I-77 then carries 2×3 lanes to downtown. At Downtown Charlotte there are two interchanges with Interstate 277 which forms the ring road around downtown.
A few miles north of downtown it crosses Interstate 85. I-77 then has 2×3 lanes plus express lanes through the northern suburbs and suburbs. On the north side of town, I-485 is crossed for the second time. I-77 then follows an urban corridor parallel to the Catawba River, narrowing in phases to 2×2 lanes with one express lane in each direction until Mooresville.
Central North Carolina
North of Mooresville, you leave the urban area of North Carolina, where I-77 has 2×2 lanes. At Statesville it follows an interchange with Interstate 40. I-77 then heads north through rural areas of pastureland and forest, and then stops at major sites. I-77 passes 50 kilometers west of Winston-Salem and has an interchange with US 421. At Elkin, one crosses the Yadkin River, after which there is another interchange west of Mount Airy with Interstate 74 from Winston-Salem. Interstate 77 in Virginia then continues to Wytheville.
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The primary north-south route in this part of the state has historically been US 21. I-77 is mostly paralleled a short distance from here, except in the north of the state, where US 21 branches off to the northwest. No US Highway preceded Interstate 77 between Elkin and Mount Airy.
The original 1956 Interstate Highways plans did not include I-77. At that time, North Carolina was still a fairly rural state and the route of I-77 would be difficult to build, especially in the Appalachian Mountains, while at the same time there were no major cities for a long distance, so the argument was that a highway here was not justified. In 1957, however, the planned Interstate Highway network was revised and I-77 was added to this plan between Canton, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. This was possibly related to the construction of the West Virginia Turnpikeas a result of which a large part of the route through the Appalachian Mountains was already planned and did not have to be paid for from federal funding. I-77 passes through relatively easy terrain in North Carolina.
In the late 1950s, the route of I-77 in North Carolina was established. The first plan in 1959 chose to follow the entire corridor from US 21 to the Virginia border northwest of Elkin. In 1960 it was decided to build the northern section further east via Mount Airy, probably because it followed an easier route through the first ridges of the Appalachian Mountains. Also, North Carolina did not have to build a mountain section, since this more easterly route only overcomes a greater difference in height in Virginia.
At the time, the southern starting point of I-77 was I-85 in Charlotte. In 1964, the route was planned 3 miles south to Downtown Charlotte. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 also included an extension of I-77 further south into South Carolina. This addition came as both Columbia and Charlotte began to grow and required an Interstate Highway connection.
Construction on Interstate 77 began in the 1960s and proceeded quickly but in a somewhat fragmented manner. Several sections had been opened by 1968, but several sections were still missing until the mid-1970s, including the north Charlotte section that opened in 1975. In 1977, I-77 was completed, opening the border stretch at Mount Airy on the state line with Virginia.
The dates below are indicative, and are more of an impression of when a piece was completed, than exact opening dates.
|Exit 42||Exit 54||19 km||00-00-1965|
|Exit 79||Exit 83||6 km||00-00-1965|
|Exit 28||Exit 33||8 km||00-00-1968|
|Exit 0||Exit 8||13 km||00-00-1968|
|Exit 8||Exit 11||5 km||00-00-1973|
|Exit 33||Exit 42||14 km||00-00-1973|
|Exit 54||Exit 79||40 km||00-00-1973|
|Exit 11||Exit 28||27 km||00-00-1975|
|Exit 83||Exit 101||29 km||00-00-1977|
I-77 in Iredell County.
When I-77 was built, Charlotte was a relatively small city. In the 1950s, when I-77 was planned, Charlotte had only 150,000 residents and no significant suburban area. However, Charlotte began to grow strongly in the 1980s, increasing the importance of I-77 as a north-south corridor in North Carolina. Between 1990 and 2016, Charlotte grew from 395,000 to 842,000 inhabitants and developed a vast suburban area.
Until the mid-1990s, I-77 had 2×2 lanes everywhere except downtown Charlotte, where there were 2×3 lanes. Between 1989 and 1993, the section through the south of Charlotte was widened to 2×3 lanes. A space reservation was in place for this, unlike Charlotte’s widening of I-85 at the time. In the mid-1990s, the part at Downtown Charlotte was widened to 2×4 lanes. The interchange with I-485 in south Charlotte was built between 1994 and 1996. In 2004, the portion in north Charlotte between I-85 and I-485 was widened to 2×4 lanes. The leftmost lane was an HOV lane, the first and for a long time only car pool lanes in North Carolina. In 2008, the interchange with I-485 opened in the north of the city.
Between 2012 and 2017, the interchange with I-40 at Statesville was reconstructed. Originally this was a cloverleaf with no shunting lanes along both I-40 and I-77. The interchange has been converted to a clover turbine with a new arc for traffic from Charlotte to Asheville.
I-77 Express Lanes
Between 2015 and 2019, express lanes were established on I-77 between Exit 11 (I-277) in Charlotte and Exit 36 (NC-140) in Mooresville. The contracts were signed on June 26, 2014 and a financial close was reached on May 20, 2015. The project started on November 16, 2015, with an original target to open in 2018. However, the project was delayed and the first phase of express lanes opened on June 1, 2019, between I-485 and Mooresville. On November 16, 2019, the remaining part of the project opened in Charlotte itself. Up to Exit 28 in Cornelius there are 2×2 express lanes, north of which 1 express lane per direction. This partly involved conversion of existing HOV lanes into toll lanes. The project cost $647 million.
Tolls are payable on the express lanes of I-77 north of Charlotte. The toll charge is dynamic, based on the current traffic volume. The toll collection is fully electronic with the NC Quick Pass.
151,000 vehicles drive daily on the border with the state of South Carolina, dropping to 80,000 after the interchange with I-485. This then increases to 154,000 vehicles for I-277 in Downtown Charlotte after each connection. The busiest point on I-77 is between Downtown Charlotte and the interchange with I-85, which has 181,000 vehicles per day. This drops to 116,000 vehicles north of I-85 and 102,000 vehicles north of I-485. Then, after each exit, intensities drop to 60,000 vehicles per day at Statesville and 40,000 vehicles north of I-40. Thereafter, intensities drop to 28,000 vehicles for US 421 and 20,000 vehicles at Mount Airy. 31,000 vehicles cross the Virginia border every day.