Corridor B is a highway in the U.S. states of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. It is part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, and generally follows U.S. Route 23 from Interstate 26 and Interstate 40.
Project Type:Limited Access Road Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:33,348 Length (mi):88.40
Economic Distress:1.02 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):260 Population Growth Rate (%):0.86
Employment Growth Rate (%):1.64 Market Size:149,898 Airport Travel Distance:23.4118 Topography:18
Region:Southeast State:TN County:Buncombe, NC; Madison, NC; Unicoi, TN; Washington, TN; Sulllivan, TN
City:N/A Urban/Class Level:Metro Local Area:N/A
Impact Area:County Transportation System:Highway GIS Lat/Long:36.551514 / -82.581866
Initial Study Date:1970 Post Constr. Study Date:1998
Constr. Start Date:1971 Constr. End Date:1995
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): 1995 Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):550,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):840,724,081
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||204.11||155.09||359.20|
|Output (in $M's)||600.41||456.21||1056.62|
Corridor B is a 305.5-mile segment of the Appalachian Development Highway System and travels through five states from North Carolina to Ohio. This case study focuses on the 88-mile portion of the corridor from Asheville, NC to Tri-Cities area of Tennessee (Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol), passing through the Blue Ridge Mountains. This portion of highway was constructed in the late 1960s as a two-lane highway, ultimately becoming a continuous four-lane interstate grade highway by 2003. Over the years, the highway improvements led to re-designations, from US highways to interstate connectors to the current Future I-26 designation. The economic and transportation impacts of the highway have been limited due to roadblocks with completing highway connections along the corridor north of the Tennessee Impacts to date have been improved connections between major centers, and improved access to the Port of Charleston. Based on insights provided through interviews and the evaluation of increased economic activity due to the improved access, Corridor B is estimated to create 8,100 jobs.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
As part of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), Corridor B spans 305.5 miles across five states, from Ashville, NC to Portsmouth, OH. This analysis focuses on the 88.4-mile corridor improvements located along US 19 and US 23, in North Carolina and Tennessee (31.0 and 57.4 miles, respectively). The improvements upgraded the US-designated highway to interstate standards between Kingsport, TN, at the north end, and Asheville, NC, in the south. This segment of highway passes through Buncombe and Madison Counties in North Carolina; and Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington Counties in Tennessee.
In North Carolina, the route begins at the I-240 intersection of US 19 and US 23 in Asheville and heads north through Mt. Pisgah National Forest to the Tennessee state line. In Tennessee, the route runs north through Cherokee National Forest and bisects Johnson City. North of Johnson City, the highway intersects with Interstate81 and travels on to Kingsport and the Virginia state line.
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Spanning both rural and mid-sized urban communities, the Corridor connects the Tri-Cities in Tennessee to Asheville in North Carolina, while crossing rugged mountainous terrain and the Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests. Over a third (approximately 31 miles) lies within these two National Forests.
In Tennessee, the Tri-Cities metropolitan statistical area (MSA) includes Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City, and is located within Sullivan and Washington Counties. Between 1969 and 2006, the population of the five-county area grew 40% from 378,400 to 528,000. Employment grew more rapidly, from 179,800 to 341,900 (90%) reflecting national trends associated with the greater participation of women in the workplace, second jobs, and later retirement. The population and employment growth was led by the urbanized counties of Sullivan and Washington in Tennessee, and Buncombe in North Carolina.
The Appalachian Regional Highway System (ADHS) was designed to promote economic and social development in the Appalachian Region. Construction of various ADHS links, including Corridor B, began in the late 1960s.
Winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains, U.S. 23 and U.S. 19 was upgraded and expanded to meet interstate standards, and these highways have now been designated future Interstate 26 after completion of a 9.0 mile segment from Mars Hill, NC to the Tennessee state line in 2003. Spanning approximately 35 years, road construction in NC began in 1968, and covered 31.0 miles. Construction on the 57.4 miles of roadway in Tennessee began in 1971 and concluded in 1995.
In Tennessee, the improvements consisted of several projects that are broadly categorized into four phases. The first linked Kingsport to the outskirts of Johnson City. The second went through Johnson City. The third went from the southeast edge of Johnson City to Erwin. The fourth segment, built between1984-1995, extended from Erwin, over the mountains, to the North Carolina state line. The first three segments, from the VA state line through Johnson City, were originally designated as I-181, since they effectively served as I-81spurs. Subsequent to the completion of the North Carolina section (see below), the I-81 spurs were reclassified as I-26. The last 16-mile Tennessee segment, officially designated as the Appalachian Scenic Highway was dedicated in 1995 as the James H. Quillen Parkway.
The US23/US19 improvements in North Carolina began in the late 1960s from the I-240 interchange in Asheville to Mars Hill. Many sections of the North Carolina corridor required replacement of at-grade intersections with grade-separated interchanges and limited access designs. The second phase, infamously dubbed the "Missing Link", began in 1996 and completed in 2003, went from Mars Hill over the mountains to the Tennessee state line. This last 9-mile North Carolina section required an entirely new alignment at a cost of $230 million.1
Comprised of numerous engineering, and right-of-way (ROW) acquisition, and construction phases over approximately 35 years and between two states, the total project cost was not readily available and could not be ascertained from available documents.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
A 1998 ARC study evaluated the transportation impacts associated with ten of the 26 ARC corridors, including Corridor B. The study addressed the varying traffic volumes associated with the corridors. At the time, a 12.7 mile segment from Mars Hill, NC to the Tennessee state line (including the Missing Link) was not developed. The other 75.7 miles were reconstructed from the previous 2-lane road to a more direct 4-lane interstate quality expressway.
The reconstructed route added 1.5 miles to the preexisting route, resulting in an additional 100.5 million vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) annually. However, the drive-time was decreased by over 40%, resulting in annual time-savings of 21.4 million vehicle-hours-traveled (VHT). While the 32% estimated reduction in car VHT (14.0 million hour savings) was significant, the 81% reduction in truck VHT (7.4 million hour savings) was extraordinary; it highlighted the benefit of improved roadway on goods transport. These savings still exclude the full benefit associated with completion of the entire roadway, since the 12.7 mile extension from Mars Hill, NC to the Tennessee state line was not yet reconstructed.
Subsequent Corridor development centered on completing the "Missing Piece" in North Carolina. Completed in 2003, the route almost provided a seamless interstate corridor between Asheville and the Tri-Cities region. The current connection between I-26 and I-240 does not meet interstate design standards because it does not provide clear and sufficient merge capabilities, resulting in a nebulous "Future I-26" designation that confuses local residents and travelers alike. .
Nonetheless, the I-26 improvements facilitated southbound truck movements from the Tri-Cities region (especially Kingsport) and greatly improved access to the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. Most notably, Eastman Chemical sends 20-30 trucks daily from Kingsport to the Port of Charleston. Interestingly, the I-26 improvements led to the subsequent closure of the firm's regional intermodal facility due to insufficient volumes to warrant rail intermodal movements compared to lower trucking costs on the improved I-26. While undocumented, it is perceived that the improved Port of Charleston access facilitated a shift from the Port of Norfolk to Charleston for local Tri-Cities exporters/importers.
A recent traffic study in Unicoi County indicated ADT of 7,000 on I-26, which was mostly all local traffic. While helping local traffic, I-26 has not attracted through traffic because of insufficient overall north-south connectivity. Specifically, I-26 ends at the VA state line where it resumes the original 4-lane limited access status of US-23. This lack of interstate connectivity results in few long-distance north-south trips transferring from I-75 to I-26.
The direct interstate facility has greatly improved connectivity between the Asheville and Tri-Cities region. Perceived travel times have been halved, facilitating work and shopping commutes between regions. For example, the Tri-Cities region has developed into a Health Service Regional Center and nursing shortages often arise. With the reduced travel times on the improved corridor, Asheville area nurses regularly commute to the Tri-Cities area for additional work.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The 1998 ADHS study evaluated the economic development implications of the completed ADHS road sections. Specifically, the study evaluated how the transport cost savings (i.e., time, vehicle operating cost, and accidents) affected the Appalachian Region in terms of industry competitiveness, retail expenditures, and tourism. The study found that the completed Tennessee/North Carolina sections of Corridor B saved road users an estimated $222.4 million annually in 1995, and with savings forecast to rise to $664.3 million annually by the year 2024.
Previously, the regional population grew 26% (from 378,400 to 478,600) and employment grew 65% (from 179,800 to 296,400) between the start of Corridor B improvements in 1969 to the 1995 benchmark year. Since then, population growth and associated development has continued. While most all counties have seen population and employment growth between the various years, the development has varied notably, as discussed below in relation to the Corridor improvements. Further, the connectivity benefits associated with the road improvement were not fully recognized since the 9-mile North Carolina segment between Mars Hill and the Tennessee state line had not been completed.
The corridor underwent significant economic development over the past 40 years. However, these changes have not been uniform due to the varying urban and rural regions through which the Corridor passes. Additionally, the urban growth cannot be attributed to the highway improvements because there is not interstate connection north of the Tri-Cities.
In Asheville, sectors such as aviation/aerospace, knowledge-based communications/IT, green industry and environmental/climate-related industries, as well as life sciences and natural products manufacturing, have established industry clusters with future growth potential. While Asheville residential and commercial land prices (historically some of the highest in the state) were not notably affected by the Corridor, the corridor improvement did facilitate regional growth outside of the urban core.
Such suburban growth outside of Asheville led to the recent (2009) opening of a Lowes and Wal-Mart big-box store in Weaverville, NC (Buncombe County). Located approximately ten-miles north of the I-240 loop, the two big-box store openings exemplify the increasing regional demand for retail outlets associated with residential growth. Local sentiment indicates that I-26 facilitated this residential growth.
Continuing north into Madison County, NC, the rural characteristics of the mountainous region prevail, with little signs of economic development. With only 3 interchanges, local perception suggests that the Corridor does not go "through" Madison County; rather it goes "over" it. Open only since August 2003, no notable development has occurred in the region, although development of a North Carolina welcome center is proceeding and interchange service stations are envisioned. Such limited growth potential is unsurprising given that the Mt. Pisgah National Forest comprises a significant portion of the County.
Similarly, the rural Unicoi County across the state line in Tennessee also includes a large wilderness area (Cherokee National Forest), which covers approximately 15-miles of the Corridor. Nonetheless, big-box stores did open within the Unicoi city limits subsequent to the Tennessee-segment completion. A welcome center is also planned for Tennessee.
Currently, the Tri-Cities manufacturing clusters include appliances, engine equipment, motor vehicle related, and nondurable industry machinery. Additionally, growth sectors include logistics, distribution and warehousing, health services and pharmaceutical, and information technology/services. The early I-181 connector between Kingsport and Johnson City facilitated regional commutes which helped regional growth. However, I-81 continues be the dominate transportation factor spurring growth since it connects the region to the northeast and southern U.S., despite the improved access to the Port of Charleston. With the estimated amount of savings to residents and businesses, including additional market access and mobility, Corridor B was estimated to create 8,100 total jobs within the 88 mile segment covered by this study.
The non-transportation factors associated with the rural, mountainous character continue to constrain regional economic development. The corridor's central region spans two national forests (about a third of the corridor distance), which further constrains land and infrastructure (i.e., water and sewer) development. Given the rural, mountainous, and forested characteristics of the region, economic development will primarily be limited to the Corridor's urban termini.
TDOT, Region 1
NCDOT, Division 13
Land-of-Sky Regional Council
Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
The Regional Alliance for Econ, Development
Case Study Developed by Wilbur Smith Associates