Interstate 77 in Virginia

Interstate 77 in Virginia traverses 68.55 miles, including the 8.01 mile overlap with I-81 (60.54 miles not including the overlap) from the North Carolina border in Carroll County to the West Virginia border in Bland County. I-77 serves the towns and cities of Hillsville, Wytheville, and Bluefield. I-77 in Virginia was built near to and parallel to an existing major interregional highway, the mostly 2-lane US-52 from North Carolina to West Virginia. I-77 runs north-south 611 miles from I-26 at Columbia, South Carolina to I-90 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio; and it serves Charlotte NC, Charleston WV, and Akron OH along the way.

The terrain in Virginia that I-77 crosses is varied, with rolling to mountainous terrain along the entire route, since the spine of the Appalachian Mountains runs through Southwest Virginia, and I-77 crosses it at almost a right angle. I-77 crosses the general transportation barrier of the Appalachians, plus the specific transportation barriers of Fancy Gap, Big Walker Mountain, and East River Mountain. I-77 provides 70 mph design speeds along the entire highway in Virginia.

I-77 in Virginia crosses mostly rural areas and a couple small urban areas. It runs through Wytheville, a city of 7,100 people, and near Bluefield VA/WV, a joint city of 21,900 people. I-77 nationally is the "Great Lakes to Florida" route that regional promoters lobbied to have added to the Interstate Highway System when the original Interstate concept was passed into law in 1956; earlier Interstate system concepts did not include this route. I-77 of course doesn't go all the way to Florida, but in conjunction with I-79, I-26 and I-95, it does provide a north-south Interstate highway corridor from Florida to Cleveland OH and Pittsburgh and Erie PA. For Virginia, I-77 in conjunction with I-81 provides Interstate highway service from Bristol VA to Charleston WV and north, and from Roanoke VA to Charlotte NC and south.

Route openings. The first section of I-77 in Virginia to open to traffic was on June 29, 1972 with the 11.5-mile-long section from I-81 at Wytheville to US-52 at Bland, including the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel, bypassing the circuitous 22-mile long 2-lane previous main highway US-52. The remaining 15.6 miles from Bland to the West Virginia border opened in 5 sections from late 1974 to mid-1975; this includes the 1.4-mile-long section from US-52 in Virginia to US-52 in West Virginia, including the East River Mountain Tunnel passing under the border of the two states, and this section opened on December 20, 1974. So I-77 in Virginia from I-81 to West Virginia was complete by July 2, 1975. The 8.6-mile long section of I-77 from the North Carolina border to VA-148 at Fancy Gap opened in July 1977. The next 15.7-mile-long section from VA-148 to VA-69 at Poplar Camp opened in December 1977. The next 9.2-mile-long section from VA-69 to I-81 at Fort Chiswell opened on December 4, 1978, completing I-77 from North Carolina to I-81. I-77 in Virginia was essentially complete at that point. There was an incomplete section, 4.69 miles in the overlap with I-81 between Wytheville and Fort Chiswell, and it was completed in 2 sections, the eastern half in 1985 and the western half on July 14, 1987, completing I-77 and I-81 in Virginia. I-77 was completed in West Virginia in 1987, with the 4-lane reconstruction of the West Virginia Turnpike. The final national section of I-77 to be completed was in 1995 with the bypass of Columbia SC, although in 1987 it was complete from I-26 just north of Columbia SC to the northern terminus in Cleveland OH.

Traffic volumes on I-77 in Virginia are fairly uniform, with higher volumes in the I-77/I-81 overlap section. VDOT 1997 traffic volume data follows. Figures are published rounded to the nearest 100. The "Great Lakes to Florida" I-77 Interstate route is a mostly rural Interstate highway, but it carries heavy volumes of automobiles and trucks along the entire corridor. The lowest volume section in Virginia carries 25,000 AADT (annual average daily traffic) with 22% large trucks. The 33-mile-long stretch of I-77 from the North Carolina border to I-81 at Fort Chiswell carries from 32,000 to 36,000 AADT with 27% large trucks. At Fancy Gap, the volume is 32,000. The I-81/I-77 overlap has 6 lanes and it carries 47,000 AADT with 26% large trucks. The rest of I-77 in Virginia has 4 lanes. The 26-mile-long section of I-77 from I-81 at Wytheville to West Virginia carries somewhat lower volumes than the section south of I-81, with volumes ranging from 24,000 to 28,000 with 23% large trucks. The two tunnels each carry 28,000 AADT.

The 8.01-mile-long I-81/I-77 overlap section was upgraded to 6-lane Interstate standards in 1987, with 4.69 miles of 4-lane US-11/US-52 reconstructed to an expressway with continuous service roads, and 3.32 miles of existing 4-lane Interstate widened. VDOT location and design public hearing brochures show evaluation of several different alignments, and one of them would have put I-77 on its own alignment (no overlap), a couple miles north of I-81. The overlap alternative was chosen because of lower cost, and better service to the nearby towns. The rest of I-77 was initially built with 4 lanes.

For more information and photos, see my web pages Interstate 81 and Interstate 77 and Interstate 77 Virginia Photos. Detailed information is there about the two mountain tunnels and the Fancy Gap section. The second link has 2 photos of the original construction at Little Walker Mountain. See David "ZZYZX" Steinberg's Interstate 77 page for description of the national I-77 route.

Main page of Interstate Highway System in Virginia.

Copyright 2000-2003 by Scott Kozel. All rights reserved. Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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By Scott M. Kozel, Roads to the Future

(Created 5-31-2000, updated 12-20-2003)