Around the cities of Laurinburg and Maxton, I-74 is to be routed onto the existing US 74 bypass. This freeway runs a total of 14 miles around Laurinburg to the south and around Maxton to the north. This was the first section of I-74 to be signed along US 74 when this stretch of highway received Future Interstate 74 signs in 1998, creating a unique circumstance of two different highway shields with the same number standing side-by- side.1 Unlike the Rockingham Bypass, the Future I-74 signage existed only on the Bypass itself, and not at the entrance ramps. The Laurinburg part of the bypass was built in the 1960's and is not up to current Interstate design standards. The Maxton segment, though newer, is also not Interstate standard. NCDOT typically puts up Future Interstate shields where there is a project in place to bring the highway up to Interstate guidelines or where an interstate standard roadway exists that is not connected to a signed interstate route. There has been no project to upgrade the roadway listed up through the 2012-2018 STIP meaning no funding for a project at least through 2020. However, according to design documents for the new I-74 freeway being built to the east (see Segment 16) NCDOT was suppose to sign it as a full Interstate when that project almost completed in November of 2008.2 However, NCDOT in the summer of 2007 began placing signposts that will hold the new I-74/US 74 signs along the highway and at exit ramps and for the new mileposts along the Bypass.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE I-74
In November 2008, around the time the first part of the new segment of I-74 to the east opened, they signed the Bypass as full interstate I-74 and US 74 and put up exit signs matching I-74 mileage*, only the second segment of the highway to do this. It was thought by the author and others that perhaps NCDOT had gotten a waiver from the FHWA to sign the interstate now with a promise to upgrade the highway later as with I-73/74 on a previously existing section of US 220 near Candor, (see I-73 Segment 9). The I-74/US 74 signage covered the complete length of the Maxton and Laurinburg Bypasses. The exits were numbered using I-74 mileposts as well, starting with Exit 207 (see exit list below), however these numbers needed to be changed due to a correction of numbers to the east, there were two exits 207, 209 and 210 for example. NCDOT 'solved' this problem temporarily by greening over the duplicate numbers in Laurinburg, see February 2009 photos below. In late April and May 2009 they finally got around to fixing the numbers, listed below. (or go to the I-74 Exit List). It seemed construction, for now, was complete on this section.
However, in the middle of 2009, word came down to NCDOT that, since neither bypass was up to interstate standards, all I-74 signs had to come down.4 All shields mounted on polls on the highway, and at crossing interchange onramps (in Scotland County) came down (with 1 exception, see photos below), with nothing put in their place. Mileage posts and exit numbers were not changed, nor initially were any overhead signs (this occured in early 2010). Unless NCDOT convinces the FHWA otherwise, it is likely I-74 signs will not appear on this segment for at least another 10 years. That's the earliest a project to upgrade the bypasses could conceivably start. Who contacted the FHWA about the I-74 signs is unclear, though it happened around the time the NCDOT Board member for the region, who had made I-74 a priority, suddenly decided to retire.4 Was this a coincidence? Possibly, it looks like NCDOT didn't send a letter to the FHWA about getting permission to sign I-74 until the fall of 2009. The reply letter in December 2009 only gives permission for I-74 to be signed along the new freeway, or east of the now Alt. US 74/Bus. US 74 interchange, not on the Maxton Bypass to the west.5 Laurinburg officials were at least hopeful in early 2010 that the future I-74 signs would be put back up eventually, however, by 2013, not only had no new signs gone up, but NCDOT removed the bare support posts that had held the Future, then official I-74 signs. The only reference to I-74 is on a guide sign that remains on East US 74 prior to the Bypass, the former East banner covered over with a 'Future' label.
NEW FUNDING TO JUMP START UPGRADE
In November 2015, NC Governor Pat McCrory announced that new budget guidelines, including the stopping of future transfers from the transportation budget to the general fund, would create increased funding for NCDOT highway projects. NCDOT released a list of new projects that would be funded with the additional revenue, if approved by the Board of Transportation in the 2016-2025 STIP, as well as designating funds to specific projects like completing the I-74 Segment of the Winston-Salem Beltway (see I-74 Segment 4). According to this list, a new STIP project that would upgrade US 74 to Interstate Standards from the Rockingham Bypass to the currently signed section of I-74 in Robeson County, including the Laurinburg Bypass, would start in 2022 with a cost around $87 million.6 The Board approved the funding at their January 7, 2016 meeting. The upgrade should be completed by 2025.7
Changed Numbers for Exits along the Laurinburg-Maxton Bypass (West
to East)2, Corrected numbers put up in the Fall of 2008
for the then I-74 freeway, old are in ( ):3
Exit 181 (207) Business US 74 Laurinburg (EB off-ramp only) (207 number greened out before being replaced)
Exit 182 (208) NC 79 Gibson (WB only off-ramp)(208 number greened out before being replaced)
Exit 183 (209) US 15/401 North US 501 Fayetteville Bennettsville
Exit 184 (210) Business US 15/401 Laurinburg
Exit 185 (211) US 501 South Rowland
Exit 186 (212) To Business US 74
Exit 187 (213) Business US 74
Exit 190 (215) Laurinburg-Maxton Airport
Exit 191 (216) NC 71 Maxton Red Springs
Photos from December 2007, January 2008 and May 2009, going east and then coming back westbound:
This is the first sign going eastbound on US 74 that includes an official shield for I-74, it was still there in March 2010, but the 'East' Banner over the I-74 shield had been replaced with 'Future' even after most all of the other I-74 signs had been taken down (replaced by several 'Future I-74 Corridor' signs), suggesting a possible return of the Future I-74 shields at a later date. (February 2009)
This is what the first exit looked like at the beginning of the Laurinburg Bypass with the correct exit number installed, May 2009. Photo Courtesy of James Mast (JM).
This is what it looked in November 2009. Everything's the same as of March 2010 except the overhead sign on the right now just indicated US 74 and the I-74 ground-level sign is missing next to the US 74 sign on the right. (11/15/09)
A closer look at the sign assembly with the empty pole that used to say East I-74. (11/15/09)
In February 2009, with the former exit number, 207, the same as for US 74 Business at the western end of the bypass, the number had been greened out to prevent confusion to drivers over duplicate numbers.
A closer look on how NCDOT changed the numbers, a simple patch over the old number. This is the beginning of the famed US 15-501 highway, which ends in Durham. (JM)
Another look at the sign for the same exit in November 2009, the exit number now has that of I-74 mileage. (11/15/09)
Photo from May 2009 showing both the new exit number for US Bus. 15 and 401, plus a new milepost, though they seem to disagree slightly, again these numbers were not changed after the I-74 shields were taken down. (JM)
Here's the same exit in February 2009, then Exit 210, between duplicated exit numbers to the east.
Heading back west on US 74, here's the new Exit 191 number for the NC 71 exit to Maxton (JM).
Here's the exit for NC 71 from December 2008, then listed as Exit 217.
Also from December 2008, a gore sign for the Laurinburg- Maxton Airport Exit, then 216, now 190.
Here's a well sun-lit view of new Exit 187, for US 74 Business (JM).
Here's how it looked in December 2008, with an Exit 213 tab added to existing sign for US 74 Business
Interstate I-74/US 74/US 501 assembly in Laurinburg as it appeared in November 2007.
How the assembly looked in Nov. 2009, in this case the center pole, along with any reference to I-74 has been removed. (11/15/09)
From January 2007, another look at then Exit 210, Business US 15/401, again this exit number is now 184 .
Here's the new exit number and I-74/US 74 shields for the last exit going westbound, NC 79 (JM).
The gore signs and I-74/US 74 shields in December 2007. The 208 number was greened out in 2008 due to its duplication further east on the new I-74 freeway. The I-74 shield in the background was removed in the second half of 2009.
Here's the first I-74/US 74 Overhead Sign at the beginning of the Laurinburg Bypass heading east (photo courtesy of Adam Prince), compare this to the photo from February 2009.
End I-74 signage at the west end of the Laurinburg Bypass in November 2008, the I-74 signs are now gone, an end I-74 sign had not been placed at the new end, after the Alternate US 74/Business US 74 exit at the beginning of the Maxton Bypass heading west.
These photos show how ramp signage along the Bypass has progressed since 1998:
At first, only junction US 74 signage was seen approaching the interchange, like here at US 501 North, when Bypass was signed as Future I-74/US 74
When I-74 was signed, new signage was installed at each intersection showing both I-74 and US 74 (January 2008).
The latest condition of interchange signage with the same sign poles, but no I-74 shield or direction.(11/15/09)
Directional signage nearer the US 501/I-74/US 74 interchange from January 2008.
Signage at the other side of the intersection, as it appeared in late 2009, the signs as they appear now for the east on-ramp are in the background of the previous November 2009 photo. (11/15/09)
Signage at the onramp to I-74/US 74 East/US 501 South before the I-74 signs were removed later in the year. (January 2008)
Here's the interchange signage at Exit 183, US 15/401/501 North in May 2009, showing correct exit number and I-74 signage (JM).
Here's what a similar sign assembly looks like as of November 2009. Are the spaces on the polls waiting for I-74 shields to return, or Future I-74 signs? (11/15/09)
In Robeson County, there are still I-74 shields at two exits on the Maxton Bypass. Here's the sign at the transition ramp to the new freeway to the east, the West I-74 sign on the Bypass has been removed. (11/15/09)
At the NC 71 Exit a few miles east, there are still East I-74 signs before the intersection and by the on-ramps. According to a few online maps, this is where I-74 East now begins. (3/10/10)
I-74 Corridor Signs have replaced the I-74 shields along the remainder of the Maxton Bypass westbound. Notice the substandard right and left shoulders. (3/10/10)