New Highway Eliminates Travel on Notorious Stretch

Tue February 24, 2004 - National Edition

GREENSBORO, NC (AP) A new section of Interstate 85 is open, eliminating travel for many drivers on a notorious stretch of the highway through Greensboro.

The I-85 bypass around Greensboro opened Saturday, Feb. 22.

Running south of the existing I-85, the 13.5-mi. ( 21.7 km) stretch of new road allows drivers to bypass the merger with Interstate 40, an area known for its history of fatal accidents and traffic jams.

It’s a day Frank Whitney has anticipated for nearly two years. Whitney, U.S. attorney for eastern North Carolina, drives from his Charlotte home to Raleigh for work at least once a week.

"There’s never been a time that I’ve gone through there in the evening when it hasn’t been crowded," he said. "Just on the eastern side of Greensboro there’s always a major traffic jam where several highways converge."

The $160 million road has opened four months ahead of schedule.

I-85 northbound drivers won’t have to do anything to enjoy the benefits of the new road. Those looking to stay on the old road –– to be called Business I-85 –– must exit about mile marker 120.

Southbound drivers will have to do the reverse. Those wanting to stay on the new I-85 will have to bear left as they near Greensboro; continuing straight will put them on the old route.

Drivers looking for I-40 will still need to use the old route.

North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) officials estimate the new road will take as much as half of Death Valley’s traffic, which averages 120,000 vehicles daily.

"It will relieve congestion through the heart of Greensboro," said Chris Kirkman, NCDOT resident engineer.

Not everyone is enjoying the new road.

"What you really hear is constant zoom, zoom, zoom," said Charlie Gilbreath, who’s lived in southern Guilford County land all his life and now lives near the highway that took about half of his family’s farmland.

"I’m just hoping it won’t bother us anymore than it bothers us right now. We’ve been used to peace and tranquility, and I was born and raised here, and it will never be the same anymore."