Finally, you can drive south on Interstate 85 without passing through Greensboro or crawling, choking and gasping through Death Valley.
For decades, North Carolina's most stubborn highway bottleneck was formed where westbound I-40 and southbound I-85 squeezed into downtown Greensboro, picking up cars and trucks from U.S. 29, 70, 220 and 421 along the way.
A new I-85 Bypass opened to traffic in February, taking southbound drivers off the old road a few miles before it enters Greensboro.
Drivers headed for Charlotte or other points south on the 13-mile, six-lane bypass can now enjoy rural scenery, a few minutes off their travel time on the best days and less likelihood of a traffic jam on the worst days.
Things are looking better as well for drivers who stay on I-40 and the renamed "I-85 Business."
"I know it has eased things for folks like myself who commute on Business 85," said Scott Cherry, a state Department of Transportation engineer who is helping to put the finishing touches on the I-85 Bypass. "It has taken five minutes off my commuting time, at least."
Death Valley's dreary scenery of industrial plants, billboards and motel signs is unchanged, but the usual backups were absent last weekend.
"It's going to help, without a doubt," state Highway Patrol Sgt. A.W. Waddell of Greensboro said Monday. "More than anything else, we're hoping to see a reduction in accidents, the fender benders you get in that bottleneck.
"You get in that stop-and-go traffic, and somebody looks away for a moment and traffic stops -- and then, bam! You've got a wreck, and your whole interstate is tied up. It can take hours to get traffic rolling again."
A long project to rebuild and widen I-40 west of Death Valley will wind up this spring. So will the construction of an interchange several miles east of Greensboro that has narrowed I-85 through Alamance County since last summer.
But that doesn't mean major interstate highway construction in the Greensboro area is done.
The I-85 Bypass is the first major leg of Greensboro's planned $1 billion Urban Loop. Work has begun on the next section, which will connect I-85 and I-40 on the west side of the city by 2007. Until then, motorists passing through Greensboro will see orange-and-white construction drums around the Groometown Road exit on I-85 and the Guilford College exit of I-40.
The rest of the loop, around the northern and eastern sides of Greensboro, is to be finished after 2010.
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