Interstate 140 bypass complete around Wilmington

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Interstate 140 bypass complete around Wilmington

Signage approaching an interchange with the newly completed Interstate 140 in Wrightsboro.

Signage approaching an interchange with the newly completed Interstate 140 in Wrightsboro.

Tyler Newman - The Seahawk

Signage approaching an interchange with the newly completed Interstate 140 in Wrightsboro.

Tyler Newman - The Seahawk

Tyler Newman - The Seahawk

Signage approaching an interchange with the newly completed Interstate 140 in Wrightsboro.

Tyler Newman, Assistant News Editor

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A project under construction since Dec. 2003 is finally complete in southeastern N.C.

Interstate 140, also known as the John Jay Burney Jr. Freeway, opened its westernmost and final segment to traffic on Dec. 19, 2017, connecting to the existing segment in northern New Hanover County.

With Interstate 140 fully open, the entire 26.8-mile freeway connects U.S. Highway 17 in Porters Neck in northeastern New Hanover County to U.S. Highway 17 in Brunswick County.

As Wilmington’s first full bypass, Interstate 140 provides the first direct connection between Interstate 40 and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The first leg of the freeway opened to drivers in 2006, stretching from Porters Neck to Interstate 40. Since then, two additional legs have been added further west, extending the interstate into Brunswick County.

The highly sought after transportation project planned for the Cape Fear region since 1972 did not appear in the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s budget until 1989.

The initial purpose of creating the bypass was to ease growing congestion along Market Street and the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, which was the only southward route through Wilmington at the time.

In Sept. 2002, the Federal Highway Administration announced that it would designate the planned highway as Interstate 140.

Later that month, it was announced that the eastern leg of the freeway would be named the John J. Burney Freeway, after the state senator and trustee of UNC Wilmington.

In addition to shortening the commute around Wilmington, Interstate 140 also opens up new business opportunities in both New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. Interstate access is highly coveted by major businesses when eyeing new regions for expansion.

The total cost for the final leg of the project? $204 million.

Officials and engineers cut the ribbon for the bypass on Dec. 15, with much to look forward to for the local community and travelers alike.

Officials state that the new bypass will increase mobility in southeastern N.C., reduce congestion throughout New Hanover and Brunswick counties, and enable a new route for freight trucks headed southward.

The bypass also finally provides a much needed third crossing of the Cape Fear River, which will potentially reduce some traffic on the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and Isabel Holmes Bridge.

As for a fourth crossing? The proposed Cape Fear Skyway, extending Interstate 140 back east across the Cape Fear River to the Port of Wilmington, is still unfunded for construction.

For now, however, drivers can enjoy the smooth, 70 mph ride from Porters Neck to Leland, easing their commute through the Cape Fear region.

Tyler Newman can be found on Twitter @tnewman39.