This report is from a weekend roadtrip from Virginia Beach, VA down to near Augusta, GA and back, much of it with Adam Prince of Gribblenation fame.  This trip was taken in mid-September, 2004.

Weekend roadtrip: VA-NC-SC-GA and back (long)

The question of what to do this past weekend was on my mind late last week. Weather from Ivan made 7 hours of driving through rain to the Harrisburg/Lancaster meet an iffy proposition at best, so I opted not to attend the meet. Thought about going to D.C. to do research, but the location I wanted to do research at is closed on the weekends. After a last minute weather check and a phone call to Adam Prince, we decided to head south to do some county collecting.

- Part one was getting to Raleigh. Left the house around 4:30am...VERY LITTLE TRAFFIC in Hampton Roads in the 4-6am Saturday timeframe, which didn't bother me any. Made probably my best time ever heading west.

- Others on MTR have posted suggestions about using VA 186 as a shortcut between US 58 and I-95 heading south. Thought I'd try it out, but I took it one step further by using SR 671 between Franklin and Boykins. A good bypass route, to be sure...12 miles shorter than using US 58/I-95...using that shortcut, combined with little traffic and averaging 8-10 over the limit put me in Raleigh less than 3 hours after I left Virginia Beach with a total mileage of about 175.

- Speaking of SR 671, it was in much better condition than your "average Virginia secondary route". Could reasonably become a VA 186 extension, though it's a tad narrow for trucks in/near Boykins. The first 1.5 miles or so southwest of US 58 has been upgraded to a 5-lane section, out to SR 687/Delaware Rd. Speed limit is 55 MPH and 45 for trucks.

- Continued along VA 186 and took a US 301/US 158 routing to I-95 (using a short segment of old US 301 in Weldon to cut the corner). US 158 is on a pair of one-way streets through Weldon. The westbound direction (2nd St) has a concrete divider between the two lanes at a railroad overpass in town. IIRC, a similar setup exists in the eastbound lanes.

- Even at 6am, I-95 had a fair amount of traffic....things still flowed very well though. Took US 64 west into Raleigh, where I noticed two things. First, one of the interchanges near Spring Hope has had a "SR 1306" banner added on top of the guide signage along US 64. Second, US 64 has been moved to a temporary bypass as a result of I-540 on the embankments for the future US 64 bridge over I-540 is underway.

- Started the trip with Mr. Prince by taking Capital (US 1/401) down to the Beltline (I-440). NCDOT has completed a minor widening project near the Beltline on SB Capital. Previously, the US 1/401 SB merge became 4 lanes, then narrowed down to 3 lanes a couple blocks north of the Beltline. Now, there are 4 full lanes down to the Beltline, with the right two lanes splitting off onto the Outer Beltline and the left two lanes continuing on as SB Capital/US 401.

- Took the Outer Beltline around and continued on US 1 South. This was my first time on the Beltline between Hillsborough St (NC 54) and I-40, and was the last section I needed to "clinch" I-440. At the I-40/440/US 1 interchange, nominally a cloverleaf, C/D roads exist on both sides of I-64 and the SB side on I-440/US 1. Adam mentioned that prior to I-40's construction, the SB C/D road was the original SB lanes and the current SB lanes were the original NB lanes.

- Stayed on US 1 until south of Southern Pines (yes...while Lou was up north at Harrisburg, we were in his neck of the woods). South of Sanford, construction is well underway on the US 1 dualization, including a bypass of Vass. In fact, most of current US 1 from the 15/501 split south of Sanford to south of Vass will be on new alignment, starting off to the west of existing US 1 (which looks like it'll become an ALT route or a frontage road of some sort) then shifting over to the east side for an eastern bypass of Vass. The bypass will rejoin US 1 near the existing 4-lane southwest of Vass. The bypass is shown on the 2005 American Map atlas.

- Followed the 1950s-vintage US 1 expressway "bypass" (of sorts) through Southern Pines. Noticed that some of the southbound side frontage road was gravel rather than paved. Also, while many maps show it as a freeway, it isn't. At-grade intersections exist, including at-grades between the three interchanges along the bypass (NC 2/22, Pennsylvania Ave, and Morganton Rd). SB US 1 narrows down to 1 lane just before old US 1 rejoins the route, and immediately following is a traffic signal at Saunders Blvd. From there south through the southern US 1/15/501 triplex is heavy commercial area.

- Split off onto US 15/501 south and followed that south into Scotland County. Compared to US 1, US 15/501 through here is rather desolate, a point Adam made often.

- Turned onto NC 144, which is a relatively new NC route that follows "Old Wire Rd" between US 401 near Wagram and US 74 at Laurel Hill. At Laurel Hill we turned west onto US 74.

- Noted that there's enough development along US 74, especially in the towns it goes through, to where any I-74 aspirations will likely require new alignment through those areas that aren't already freeway bypasses.  The Hamlet bypass had "Future I-74" shields posted in both directions.  Unfortunately, the freeway section on the Hamlet bypass doesn't quite reach to the Great Pee Dee River (which was running very full)...there's an at-grade intersection just east of the river.

- Noted that both Lilesville and Polkton had local access overpasses over US 74, so that local traffic could get from one side to the other without having to cross US 74 at-grade. A good idea that I wish were used more often.

- Curiously, red light cameras have been installed at the US 74/NC 205 junction in Marshville.

- The whole area from Wingate through Monroe to I-485 was very slow and busy...too many traffic signals. A freeway bypass of this segment would be very justifiable with current traffic alone, to say nothing of future traffic conditions. Having 6 lanes along the US 74/601 duplex didn't help much, nor did the two substandard interchanges in the vicinity of the northwestern 74/601 junction.

- Guide signage at I-485 shows "Martin Frwy" in a line above the I-485 shields/directionals.

- According to Adam, US 521 has been truncated to the I-485/US 521 interchange. However, signage still showed US 521 continuing along, then north of I-485.

- Inner I-485 expands to 4 lanes approaching I-77, with 2 lanes continuing past I-77 and three lanes exiting off to I-77. These 3 lanes then split further into 2 lanes each for each direction on I-77. The 2-lane ramp leading to SB I-77/US 21 also has an exit to Westinghouse Blvd before the merge onto SB 77/21.

- I-77 is 8 lanes (4 each way) from I-485 south into South Carolina. The 1 mile advance guide sign for US 21/Exit 90 in SC is on the NC side of the border, but curiously has a black border around the US 21 shield, per SC style. A 2 lane ramp splits off as the SB off-ramp to US 21, which further splits into 5 lanes.

- Stopped at the SC welcome center to pick up SC maps. Further south, at Exit 82 (US 21 and SC 161), SCDOT is building what looks to be both a SB C/D road and a SB on-ramp from SC 161...neither of which existed before. The C/D road was open.

- Headed west on SC 161 which is a 7-lane roadway (3 each way plus center LTL) skirting the north edge of Rock Hill. The roadway drops to 5 lanes somewhere near SC 274, then drops further to 2 lanes prior to encountering SC 901. A ~3 mile long project under construction will realign SC 161/274 at SC 901 (making SC 161 the through route, rather than it taking a turn at SC 901) and widen it to 4+ lanes out to west of the SC 274 North junction. This project is part of York County's "Pennies for Progress", apparently a local tax dedicated to road improvements. West of this project and on towards York, signs along SC 161 showed it as a "Future York County Pennies for Progress" project.

- Briefly followed the SC 5/161 duplex around York, then took SC 49 through York and on to the south. SC 49 briefly duplexes with BUSINESS US 321 in York. Further south, SC 49 goes through areas and towns that look like they've seen better days. In Sharon, some sort of 3 story building is seeing new use as a garden center on the 1st floor...not sure what the building was used for previously.

- SC 49 merges onto SC 9 in what I would call a "trademark SC Yield Junction". This was the first of many SC junctions we saw that had not only yield signs, but center islands as well. The two routes briefly duplex across the Broad River and through Lockhard before splitting, where we followed the "Yield" and continued on SC 49. In Union, SC 49 took a couple of confusing turns and it was hard to tell which direction we were heading until we got to US 176. A short US 176/SC 49/SC 215 triplex exists along the Union "Bypass", while an END TRUCK SC 18 shield exists at the south end of that bypass, where SC 18 seemingly ends (without signage), SC 215 continues straight, and US 176 turns south.

- Took US 176 south to Whitmire, a route that was noticeably curvy, rural, and wooded as it passes through part of Sumter National Forest. Another odd merge/yield situation at SC 72/SC 121, then the 176/72/121 triplex is 4 lanes leading into Whitmire. At the split, we followed SC 72 for a couple blocks (including where it turned onto a different street), then turned onto SC 66.

- Followed narrow, curvy SC 66 across I-26 and through Joanna (another town that has seen better days) to its end at SC 56 (one of two SC routes we clinched Saturday). A brief trip down SC 56 then west on SC 560 which was VERY narrow (barely wide enough for two cars). Continued onto SC 39 in Cross Hill for about a mile then turned left onto SC 72.

- A widening project is underway on SC 72 from near SC 39 southwest to the existing 4-5 lane segment along the SC 72/US 221 duplex. From the northern US 221 junction west around Greenwood and towards Abbeville, SC 72 is a 4 or 5-lane section and is very commercially built up around Greenwood (especially along the US 25/US 178/SC 72 triplex).

- We just briefly dipped into Abbeville County before making an attempt at using a county road to cut south. Said county road was rough gravel, so we instead turned around and used a local Greenwood road to cut south to SC 10. Followed SC 10, which has an overpass over a parallel railroad just before merging in with US 221. We stayed on US 221 after SC 10 split off a couple miles later, then US 378 joined US 221 in McCormick, and we followed US 378 into Georgia.

- US 378 crosses the Savannah River on a very narrow, almost 30s-style plain superstructure or anything. While SC tends to use 3dus-size shields, GDOT used a 2dus-size shield with a condensed font. We weren't on US 378 long, as we hit GA 220 to cut down to GA 47. GA 220 has a couple stop signs in obscure locations and also makes a 90-degree turn at a place called "Martins Crossroads".

- Following GA 47 southeast, the road has an interesting steel cantilever (sp?) overhead bridge over part of Clarks Hill Lake (also called J Strom Thurmond Lake), a leg off of the Savannah River. At Pollards Corner, you have what is almost a 5-leg intersection, with US 221, GA 47, GA 104, and GA 150 all coming together. Only GA 104 has a terminus here, though.

- As one follows GA 104 towards Augusta, there is an increasing level of suburbanization to where by the time one reaches GA 383 (also signed as "TO I-20"), GA 104 is a 5-lane 45 MPH roadway. Heavy traffic, heavy commercialization, and a lot of traffic signals ensues, especially following the GA 232 "Bobby Jones Expressway" between GA 104 and I-20/I-520 (more like a boulevard than an access control whatsoever).

- Saw 87 octane for $1.569/gal along GA 232. Junction signage at I-20 called it the "Carl Sanders Hwy". The I-20/520/GA 232 junction itself is a standard cloverleaf. There are "END GA 232/BEGIN I-520" shields posted at the I-20 overpass.

- Hopped onto EB I-20 here, which I was surprised to see was only 2 lanes each way all through the Augusta area, though it was nice to see 70 MPH on the SC side. Guide signage at Exit 11 shows "Road 144", one of an occasional instance of the county road number being displayed as such on interstate guide signage.

- Left I-20 at Exit 22/US 1 for a rather nondescript trip up US 1. Took SC 392 between US 1 and SC 23 at Ridge Spring, both to clinch the short route and nab both Saluda and Edgefield Counties. According to most maps, including DeLorme, SC 392 just barely catches the corner of Edgefield County, though we didn't see any signage for Edgefield County along SC 392. To make sure we got it, we took a county road out of Ridge Spring to the Edgefield County line. As things turned out, this was a good thing, as the USGS 7.5-minute topo series shows that SC 392 misses Edgefield County by about 300 feet.

- SC 392 is briefly a 2-lane divided boulevard through Ridge Spring before ending at SC 23/39 (no END signage though). We took the duplex east for a few miles to Monetta, then headed south on SC 39 to get back to I-20. The trip along I-20 was rather uneventful, though it was nice to see a 6-lane I-20 around Columbia even if it was only 60 MPH...from US 378 west of I-26 over to just east of I-77.

- From near SC 277 east for about 10 miles, SCDOT is in the middle of a mill-and-overlay on I-20. No lane closures as we went through, though...the overlay portion hasn't begun yet. Two ways to get from EB I-20 to NB I-77: using NB SC 277 or taking an exit at I-77 which enables one to loop back around via Alpine Rd.

- While I-20 goes back to 4 lanes just east of I-77, the 60 MPH section continues for about 6-8 miles further east...rather annoying. A couple highway patrol cars spotted along here as well.

- Stayed on I-20 to Florence then took I-95 north. This was my first time on I-95 since the reconstruction in Florence was finished, and having 6 lanes was nice. Noticed error I-20 signage on SB I-95, in that a couple guide signs had I-20 shields where there should be BUSINESS I-20 shields instead. Was getting dark by this time so I missed the signs for "TV Road".

- Took I-95 to I-40 and then back to Raleigh. Generally uneventful as it was dark. South of the Border looks even worse and more tourist-trapish at night than it does during the day. Noticeably more traffic going south on I-95 than there was going north.

- We finished off by taking US 401 inside the Beltway...had not done this before south of downtown. Checked out the part-Jersey freeway/part-expressway/part-arterial section of US 401/Capital Blvd north of downtown.

Sunday I took a couple detours on my way back home, mostly to add to my NC US mileage and to visit a friend of mine in Burlington who recently had knee surgery.

- Started by taking the Inner Beltline from North Capital to check out progress of the future interchange with the Knightdale Bypass. The interchange will be a 3-level semi-directional T-interchange, and the flyovers are coming along well....I-beams have been placed and work is underway on the bridge decks, though it looks like grading has barely begun on the ramps themselves. The inside lanes on 440 have been closed in the vicinity of the interchange construction and then down to the I-40 interchange as part of some sort of widening project.

- Continued along the Inner Beltway, including the I-40 portion, to US 1/64. The Beltway is 8 lanes plus auxiliaries east of Lake Wheeler Rd/Exit 297 (and quite nice...the 4th westbound lane actually ends west of Lake Wheeer Rd), and 6 lanes west of there. The 3rd westbound lane becomes exit only for I-440/US 1/64. Headed south on US 1/64, then took 64 west at the split.

- US 64 was much nicer than I was expecting it to be. It's a 4-lane 55 MPH expressway (albeit with traffic signals) from US 1 to the downtown Apex interchange. West of there is another interchange at NC 55, but there are private driveways/access in between the downtown Apex and NC 55 interchanges. West of NC 55, US 64 transitions into your typical NC 4-lane divided arterial, although there's about 3 miles in the vicinity of Everett Jordan Lake that could technically be called expressway in that there isn't any private access.

- The Pittsboro bypass is a 65 MPH freeway and begins just west of milepost 387 with partial interchanges on each end and full interchanges at US 15/501 (Exit 383) and NC 87 (Exit 381). US 64 returns to typical 4-lane arterial west of the bypass, then becomes a 5-lane undivided section a few miles east of Siler City.

- At Siler City, I opted for US 421 North. US 421 around Siler City is also a 65 MPH freeway which, contrary to some maps, extends all the way up to the NC 49 interchange. Noted that interchanges along the bypass had exit numbers, but the NC 49 interchange did not. Although I exited at NC 49, I could see where NB US 421 dropped to 55 MPH north of the interchange, signaling the end of the freeway section.

- Took NC 49 up to Burlington...a road with a lot of curves, including some sharp ones. NC 49 does not widen to 4 lanes until just before I-40/85.

- After visiting my friend and gassing up, I took I-40/85 east but got off at Exit 157/Buckhorn Rd and jogged up to US 70. I had been on US 70 between Burlington and Efland, but not east of Efland, so I followed this opportunity. US 70 splits into BYPASS US 70 and BUSINESS US 70 in Hillsborough, with BUSINESS going through the center of town and BYPASS skirting the edge of town to the north.

- Where US 70 has its little jog with I-85 at Exit 170, I opted to continue on BUSINESS US 70 to check out the section that's built right next to I-85 in the vicinity of NC 147. Only did this briefly, as I took Cole Mill Rd to get back to I-85 to check out progress on the Durham construction.

- Some things of note in Durham: I-beams have started to be placed for the future SB 15/501 bridge over NB I-85. As far as I could tell, the old bridge is still in use. Half of the new Hillandale Rd overpass is open, though the old overpass has not been torn down yet. Concrete has been poured for the new SB lanes for a stretch southwest of US 501 North. Part of the new US 501 overpass at Duke St is also open as well for SB Duke St traffic. NB Duke St traffic still uses the old bridge. Small segments of new concrete have been poured for the SB lanes here and there between Duke St and just west of US 70 East. Concrete has been poured and median barrier construction is underway in the vicinity of the US 70 East interchange. SB traffic is using part of the new lanes here, and WB US 70 traffic is using its new bridge over I-85. The new SB 85 to EB 70 flyover looks to be complete...just some approach work left.

- Stayed on I-85/US 15 until Exit 186, where I took US 15 all the way to Oxford. North of Oxford I turned east onto the US 158 Oxford bypass (signed as mainline US 158). By comparison, the US 158 bypass of Henderson is signed as BYPASS US 158. Curiously, the I-85 overpass over this BYPASS US 158 is wide enough to accommodate a 4-lane divided section.

- Stayed on BYPASS US 158 after the short duplex with I-85. This road then junctions with BUSINESS US 1/158 and then becomes US 158/BUSINESS US 1 up to the US 1 Henderson bypass, where mainline US 1 joins the old route. The short freeway connection from here to I-85 is signed as "TO NORTH I-85".

- Took the old route up through various small towns, including Norlina, and then picked up I-85 once I got the US 1 mileage I was missing. Did my usual I-85 to US 58 East. Reconstruction of the bridges at LaCrosse has been completed, but to my disappointment did not include full shoulders...only narrow 2' shoulders on the EB bridge.

- What a difference a mile many of you know, gas prices at the I-95/US 58 junction in Emporia are hideously expensive. This is partly due to the location, being a prime tourist junction for folks going to/from Hampton Roads from I-95, but also because the same person owns all the gas stations at that junction, so there's a monopoly of sorts.  However, about a mile west of the junction, there's a gas station along US 58 (the "M.S. 58 Station" or something of the like) that is consistently 15-18 cents CHEAPER than the stations at I-95/US 58. Gas prices are also consistently 15 cents or so cheaper in the smaller towns along US 58 between Drewryville and western Suffolk. Something to keep in mind for those of you who travel through the region.

- "TRUCK" banners have been added to some US 258 signage in the vicinity of Franklin. Although there is no official TRUCK US 258 here, the banners were added along with signage that directs trucks going to the paper mills in the city to follow the "TRUCK" banners. This applies to most of the US 258 signage along EB US 58, but none of the US 258 shields along the WB duplex have the banner as it doesn't apply.

- As I mentioned in another post, I took I-664 north from Bowers Hill, then VA 164 east to check out progress on the Pinners Point Interchange, where part of the interchange opened Sunday afternoon offering a more direct connection between VA 164 and the Midtown Tunnel.

Finally got home arond 6pm.

Total county additions for me were 24...6 in North Carolina (only 2 left in that state), 3 in Georgia, and 15 in South Carolina, putting my overall total at 1,587...finally over the 50% level, and, coincidentally, once again giving myself a comfortable 20+ county lead over John Spafford...:o)

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