Installation of the 284 signs is estimated to take 11 working days, weather permitting.
Same road. Same exits. Different numbers.
Motorists on Interstate 26 between its Tennessee starting point in Kingsport and the North Carolina state line should start seeing some changes Monday.
Weather permitting, contractors for the Tennessee Department of Transportation will begin renumbering all the exits between the Model City and Sams Gap where the interstate crosses into North Carolina about 55 miles away.
For years, the stretch of road was designated Interstate 181. That began to change in August 2003 when a long-planned link of I-26 was completed on the North Carolina side of the mountain.
As I-181 the road's miles were marked and its exits were numbered from south to north - as the rest of the nation's odd-numbered interstates (which are considered north/south in directional nature). When the federal government first extended the I-26 designation into Tennessee from North Carolina, it only did so to the road's interchange with Interstate 81 in Kingsport - leaving an I-181 designation from that point to the West Stone Drive exit about nine miles away.
City of Kingsport officials spearheaded a campaign to get federal lawmakers to extend the I-26 designation all the way to the West Stone Drive exit.
It took two years. A decision finally came in August 2005 to make it I-26 all the way to West Stone Drive.
TDOT had delayed changing any of the mile markers or exit numbers - on any part of the 55-mile stretch between West Stone Drive and North Carolina - until that decision was made. If the state had started changing the numbers before the I-26 designation was extended to West Stone Drive, the zero mile marker would have been at I-81.
Now, the zero mile marker for I-26 in Tennessee is on the bridge spanning West Stone Drive (Highway 11-W) in Kingsport. That's also the western terminus of I-26, which stretches about 350 miles to Charleston, S.C. - crossing five other major interstates along the way: I-81, I-40, I-85, I-20 and I-95.
"This is a significant change for this region and for the state," TDOT's Chief Engineer Paul Degges said Thursday. "When the route was designated I-181/U.S. 23, mile marker 1 was in Unicoi County, so to bring I-26 into compliance with Federal Highway Administration requirements, mile marker number 1 is now in Kingsport with the numbers ending at the North Carolina state line."
According to TDOT:
â€¢Workers will begin making the sign changes at 8 a.m. Monday at the Flag Pond Road exit in Unicoi County and will proceed west toward Kingsport.
â€¢Once the westbound side is complete, crews will head back the other way toward North Carolina.
â€¢Installation of the 284 signs is estimated to take 11 working days, weather permitting.
â€¢The cost: about $140,000.
â€¢The old exit numbers will be displayed along with the new exit numbers for approximately 24 months.
A detailed list of new exit numbers along with the old exit numbers and their locations is available online at www.tdot. state.tn.us/documents/ I-26newnumbers.pdf.