Business and Commerce Growth,  Economic Benefits of Transportation,  North Carolina

Improving I-26 Through the North Carolina Mountains

Interstate 26 carries travelers from the Ohio Valley to Charleston, winding through North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

In a pair of long-awaited projects, the N.C. Department of Transportation is widening and modernizing I-26 from Asheville to Hendersonville. The 17-mile project will improve safety, reduce congestion and support the region’s flourishing tourism economy.

Work started in 2019 and is expected to finish on the $534 million project in 2024. When complete, the project will widen 11 miles of I-26 from four-to-eight lanes and expand another six miles to six lanes. A pair of two-lane bridges will be replaced with an 8-lane bridge to carry I-26 over the French Broad River near the stately Biltmore House, and another new bridge will be constructed over I-26 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The project will include a new path for a short portion of North Carolina’s 1,175-mile-long Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

A second project, known as the I-26 Connector, will widen and upgrade another seven miles that I-26 shares with Asheville’s loop road, I-240, west of downtown. Construction is scheduled to begin on the $950 million project in 2022. The I-26/I-240 Bowen Bridge over the French Broad River is the busiest road in western North Carolina.

The I-26 Connector project will separate local traffic and through traffic by moving part of the interstate onto a new location and a new river bridge, reducing congestion and crashes on city streets and the Bowen bridge. The existing section will be widened to six lanes and the project will include a reconfiguration of the interchange at I-26, I-40, and I-240. NCDOT and the Federal Highway Administration released a final environmental impact statement for the Connector this year. The project will reduce congestion, increase commerce and provide an improved gateway into Asheville including new bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

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