U.S. Route 421 in North Carolina
U.S. Route 421 (US 421) traverses approximately 328 miles (528 km) across North Carolina; from Fort Fisher, on Pleasure Island between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Fear River, to the Tennessee state line near the community of Zionville. The highway is nominally labeled "north" and "south" throughout North Carolina, though it really follows a general northwest-southeast path. The segments from Buies Creek to Sanford and from Greensboro to Boone take on more of an east-west route direction, with compass west corresponding to the signed north direction.
Route of US 421 in North Carolina highlighted in red
|Auxiliary route of US 21|
|Maintained by NCDOT|
|Length||328 mi (528 km)|
|South end||NC 211 / Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry at Fort Fisher|
|North end||US 421 / SR 34 at the Tennessee line|
|Counties||New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Sampson, Duplin, Harnett, Lee, Chatham, Randolph, Guilford, Forsyth, Yadkin, Wilkes, Watauga|
A majority of the highway is part of the North Carolina Strategic Highway Corridors system. Because of this designation, the state has made numerous changes converting a rural two-lane highway into a major freeway/expressway with 4 or more lanes. Numerous former segments of the highway named "Old U.S. Route 421" are found along the entire route.
US 421 starts at a parking/dock area on the Cape Fear side of Pleasure Island. Within one-quarter mile (0.40 km), US 421 passes through its unsigned junction with NC 211 and the approach to the Fort Fisher Ferry Terminal, where travelers can board to cross the Cape Fear River toward Southport. Immediately after the ferry terminal is the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, where the first and second battles of Fort Fisher took place.
The highway continues north, going through popular tourist destinations in New Hanover county: Kure Beach, and Carolina Beach. US 421 eventually enters Wilmington along the river side of the city. At Wooster Street, it goes west, overlapping with several other highways and funnels through Brunswick County before returning in northwestern New Hanover County; there it links with Interstate 140 (I-140) before continuing north towards Clinton.
From about three miles (4.8 km) north of the I-140 interchange, the road remains a four-lane divided highway for another ten miles (16 km). After its intersection with NC 210, it becomes a rural two-lane highway for much of its remainder until Dunn. The exception is in Clinton, where it follows Faircloth Freeway to bypass the city, running concurrent to US 701 for about four miles (6.4 km). There is one rest area located just north of Delway. US 421 meets I-95 in Dunn. From Wilmington to Dunn, the route parallels I-40 approximately ten miles (16 km) to US 421's east.
After crossing downtown Dunn and Erwin immediately to the east, US 421 becomes a four-lane divided highway again until reaching Lillington, with a short segment in Buies Creek containing a center lane and reduced speed limit as it crosses Campbell University. Upon reaching the junction with US 401, NC 27, and NC 210, all four routes collect onto a thoroughfare heading south over the Cape Fear River into downtown Lillington. US 421 then splits off to the west, following two-lane Front Street until Sanford (though speed limit never actually increases).
Upon reaching Sanford, US 421 formerly followed Horner Boulevard with NC 87 to cross downtown, but it is now rerouted onto the recently completed Sanford Bypass, the entirety of which is freeway. It runs concurrent with NC 87 Bypass until the US 1/US 15/US 501/NC 87 interchange, from which it continues until the end of the bypass near Cumnock.
For the rest of its route until Greensboro, US 421 remains almost entirely free-flowing. It is an expressway from Sanford to just south of Siler City, bypassing Goldston, Bear Creek, and Siler City. From here to the Greensboro Urban Loop, US 421 becomes a freeway, bypassing Staley, Liberty, and Julian. All of these cities/places were connected by US 421's old alignment, now called some variant of Old US 421 for the majority of its route.
Near Pleasant Garden, US 421 joins I-85 on the Greensboro Urban Loop, staying with the loop as I-85 leaves and I-73 joins it. Another six miles (9.7 km) later, US 421 leaves the Greensboro Urban Loop to join I-40 and continue westward towards Winston-Salem. Near Kernersville, US 421 remains with I-40 Business, a former alignment of I-40, going through downtown Winston-Salem.
West of Winston-Salem, I-40 Business ends at an interchange with mainline I-40 and US 421 continues west as a freeway towards Yadkinville and Wilkesboro. When the highway nears North Wilkesboro, the highway passes North Wilkesboro Speedway (access via exit 282); there is also a visitor center built in 2009 as the state's first environmentally friendly rest area, located at mile marker 283. As US 421 enters Wilkesboro city limits, it downgrades to an expressway with various stores and restaurants along it.
As it leaves Wilkesboro, US 421 begins a gradual climb in elevation, until approximately five miles (8.0 km) from Deep Gap, where it climbs up the steep escarpment along the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Access to the Blue Ridge Parkway is located at Deep Gap, as US 421 continues on towards Boone.
As US 421 approaches Boone, the expressway comes to an end just before an intersection with Old US 421. The road continues into Boone as four lane boulevard, becoming two lanes at the intersection with US 321. US 321 north, US 421 north, and NC 194 south all run concurrent through the downtown area via King Street. After leaving Boone, US 421 continues on as a two-lane road to the Tennessee state line, heading on to Mountain City.
US 421 overlaps with two state scenic byways: the Cape Fear Historic Byway, in downtown Wilmington, and the U.S. 421 Scenic Byway, between Deep Gap and Boone. Two of North Carolina's Bicycle Routes run concurrent for portions of US 421. North Carolina Bicycle Route 5 is concurrent from US 421's southern terminus at Fort Fisher to north of Snows Cut, through downtown Wilmington to Blueberry Road near Montague, North Carolina, and a short portion near Coats. A small part of North Carolina Bicycle Route 3 is concurrent with US 421 in downtown Wilmington.
- 1931 - US 421 officially appears on highway maps starting from Winston-Salem (junction with US 70/170) to Boone at King/Hardin Street intersection (junction with US 221/321). It was solely within the state of North Carolina and was completely overlapped with NC 60.
- 1932 - US 421 was extended both north and south. North from Boone, it extended to Sugar Grove where it then replaced US 321 heading towards Mountain City, Tennessee; US 321 redirects towards Elizabethton, Tennessee. From Winston-Salem, the highway is routed to Wilmington following NC 60.
- 1933 - Highway was realigned around Boone (using a straighter alignment) and in Greensboro (Market Street).
- 1934 - NC 60 is completely removed from its original route, leaving US 421. NC 60 gets renumbered on a short highway in Cherokee County, where it continues to this day.
- 1936 - US 421 is extended south from Wilmington to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Fort Fisher, replacing NC 40.
- 1951–1952 - US 421 bypasses Clinton (on what would be today's Faircloth Freeway). The Wilkesboro area is realigned through town to North Wilkesboro.
- 1954–1955 - US 421 is rerouted going west out of Wilmington via US 17/74/76, then north following NC 133.
- 1957–1958 - US 421 is realigned onto a straighter routing between Deep Gap and Wilkesboro. US 421 is redirected out of North Wilkesboro, old routing is renumbered as US 421-A (Now US 421 Business). US 421 is placed onto one-way streets within Winston-Salem (using 4th and 5th streets), it is also rerouted in Greensboro going from Market Street to the freeway O. Henry Blvd. Between Erwin and Dunn, US 421 is realigned onto a new four-lane expressway.
- 1962–1963 - US 421 is realigned onto a new road near Sugar Grove and Zionville, leaving the communities of Amantha and Mabel. Between Yadkinville and Winston-Salem, US 421 is given its current alignment, expanding to a freeway after the Yadkin River to I-40; it then overlaps with I-40 (later called Business 40) through downtown Winston-Salem. In Harnett County, US 421 is moved north, avoiding the community of Mamers, and enters Lillington via Front Street. US 421 is straighten out through Harrells.
- 1964–1968 - US 421 becomes one-way streets through downtown Greensboro (Market Street and Madison/Gaston Avenues). US 421 is rerouted onto the new Faircloth Freeway in Clinton.
- 1969–1970 - US 421 is rerouted onto the new Cape Fear Bridge in Wilmington. US 421 is realigned around Bonlee and Bear Creek.
- 1971–1984 - US 421 completes its bypass around Wilkesboro. Between Greensboro and Staley is upgraded to expressway standards (Joseph M. Hunt Jr Expressway) and bypasses the communities of Pleasant Garden, Climax, Julian, and Liberty. US 421 is rerouted in Sanford, avoiding the community of Broadway.
- 1987–1990 - The Siler City bypass is completed. US 421 is rerouted going north around Greensboro then going south on Henry Boulevard (US 29).
- 1994–1999 - US 421 is removed from all surface roads from Kernersville to Greensboro, follows I-40 to Joseph M. Hunt Jr Expressway.
- 2000–2003 - US 421 is realigned and widen to 4-lane freeway between Yadkinville to Wilkesboro and a 4-lane expressway between Wilkesboro to Boone (though some parts already pre-existed for before 2000). This completes US 421 as a 4-lane (or more) highway from Sanford to Boone.
- 2008 - US 421 is realigned in Greensboro to follow the new southern loop, overlapping with I-73 and I-85 to Joseph M. Hunt Jr Expressway. This was done to give drivers a route direction to Winston-Salem after I-40 returned to its original routing after one year on the southern loop.
- 2012 - In Boone, a 1.1-mile (1.8 km) section, known as King Street, was widened from four to six lanes with a raised concrete median from US 321 (Hardin Street) to east of NC 194 (Jefferson Road). The project cost $16.2 million.
Project reconstruction of highway in Winston-SalemEdit
In Winston-Salem, a 1-mile (1.6 km) section from west of Fourth Street to east of Church Street was reconstructed between 2018 and 2020 to completely upgrade and streamline. The project included removing the existing pavement and replacing it with new concrete pavement, upgrade and modernize entrance and exit ramps, and replace most of the bridges on and over the freeway. Work began on this rehab in 2018 with the closure of several miles of U.S. 421. The closed section was reopened earlier than expected in early February 2020. Concurrent with the rehabilitation of the route, the Interstate 40 Business designation was dropped from the entire route, with the route remaining U.S. 421, exits renumbered to US 421 mileage, and the highway taking on a new name, The Salem Parkway.
In September 2019, the Greensboro Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee (GUATAC) passed a resolution in support of giving US 421 interstate designation between I-40 in Greensboro and I-95 near Fayetteville and bringing it up to interstate standards. The resolution noted that an interstate along US 421 would provide a “valuable alternate route for military and freight traffic” as well as “additional evacuation routes and relief and recovery routes to the region.” The resolution also stated that US 421 becoming an interstate would “support economic development, including the four designated megasites in the Carolina Core.” The resolution states that the North Carolina Board of Transportation has already passed a resolution in support of the future interstate designation for US 421. Other MPOs along the proposed route would have to pass similar resolutions for NCDOT to start seriously considering the proposal. No interstate route numbers have been chosen for the corridor.
In New Hanover and Brunswick counties, the Cape Fear Skyway has begun its project development studies (since 2007) to build a toll road and bridge that will bypass Wilmington. Early estimates range from $950 million to $1.1 billion. The environmental impact study is expected to be completed in 2014, a record of decision and a complete financial feasibility will be done in 2015.[needs update]
Through Winston-Salem, the exit numbers concurrent with Business 40 were renumbered to reflect U.S. 421's mileage.
|New Hanover||Fort Fisher||0.2||0.32||NC 211 north – Southport||US 421 begins .2 miles (0.32 km) south of terminal; Fort Fisher-Southport Ferry|
|Myrtle Grove||13.5||21.7||NC 132 north (College Road) – Wilmington||Southern terminus of NC 132|
|Wilmington||15||24||US 117 (Shipyard Boulevard) – Wilmington, State Port|
US 76 east / US 17 Bus. north (3rd Street) – Wrightsville Beach, Downtown Wilmington
|East end of US 76 overlap, north end of US 17 Business overlap|
|19||31||Front Street||Partial interchange|
|Brunswick||||21||34||US 17 / NC 133 south / US 74 / US 76 west – Bolivia, Southport, Whiteville||South end of US 17/US 17 Business/NC 133 overlap, west end of US 74/76 overlap|
|New Hanover||||22||35||U.S.S. North Carolina Road/Battleship Road||To the N.C. Battleship|
|||24||39||US 74 east / NC 133 north – Wrightsville Beach, Hightsville||East end of US 74 overlap, north end of NC 133 overlap|
|||25.5||41.0||I-140 – Jacksonville, Myrtle Beach||I-140 exit 14|
|Pender||Long Creek||38.5||62.0||NC 210 – Rocky Point, Currie||Also to Moores Creek National Battlefield on west NC 210|
|Malpass Corner||44||71||NC 11 south / NC 53 – Atkinson, Burgaw||South end of NC 11 overlap|
|||52||84||NC 11 north – Penderlea, Willard||North end of NC 11 overlap|
|Sampson||Harrells||60||97||NC 41 (Tomahawk Highway/Wallace Highway) – Tomahawk, Wallace|
||No major junctions|
|Sampson||Delway||65||105||NC 903 (Magnolia-Lisbon Road) – Magnolia, Kenansville|
US 701 south (Garland Highway) / US 701 Bus. north (Sunset Boulevard) – Garland, Clinton
|South end of US 701 overlap|
|80||130||To NC 24 east (Tam Road) – Warsaw|
|81||130||NC 24 east (Southwest Boulevard) – Warsaw||Southbound entrance and northbound exit, east end of NC 24 overlap|
|82||132||NC 24 west (Sunset Avenue) – Roseboro, Fayetteville||West end of NC 24 overlap|
|83||134||US 701 north (Faircloth Freeway) – Newton Grove||North end of US 701 overlap|
|||95||153||NC 242 south (Salemburg Highway) – Salemburg, Roseboro||South end of NC 242 overlap|
|Spivey's Corner||99||159||US 13 (Fayetteville Highway/Newton Grove Highway) – Fayetteville, Newton Grove|
|100||160||NC 242 north (Benson Highway) – Benson||North end of NC 242 overlap|
|Harnett||Dunn||109||175||I-95 / NC 55 east – Fayetteville, Benson, Newton Grove||East end of NC 55 overlap|
|110||180||US 301 (Clinton Avenue) – Fayetteville, Benson|
|Erwin||114||183||NC 55 north / NC 82 south / NC 217 south (13th Street) – Erwin, Coats||West end of NC 55 overlap|
|||119||192||NC 27 east – Coats||East end of NC 27 overlap; Harnett County Airport at intersection|
|Lillington||124||200||US 401 north (Cornelius Harnett Boulevard) / NC 210 north (Main Street) – Fuquay-Varina||North end of US 401 and NC 210 overlap|
|125||201||US 401 south / NC 27 east / NC 210 south (Main Street)||South end of US 401/NC 210 overlap, east end of NC 27 overlap|
US 421 Bus. north / NC 87 Byp. south – Sanford, Fayetteville
|South end of NC 87 Bypass overlap|
|144||232||144||NC 42 (Broadway Road) – Fuquay-Varina|
|||149||240||149||US 1 / US 15 / US 501 / NC 87 – Raleigh, Southern Pines||Signed as exits 149A (north) and 149B (south); north end of NC 87 Bypass overlap|
US 421 Bus. south (Cumnock Road) – Sanford
|||163||262||NC 902 – Pittsboro|
|||168||270||168||Sam Fields Road – Siler City|
|Siler City||171||275||171||US 64 – Siler City, Pittsboro|
|||174||280||174||Piney Grove Church Road|
|Randolph||Staley||180||290||180||Old US Highway 421 – Liberty, Staley|
|Liberty||181||291||181||NC 49 – Liberty, Ramseur|
|184||296||Old Liberty Road – Liberty|
|Guilford||Julian||190||310||192||NC 62 – High Point, Burlington|
|||194.3||312.7||194||Woody Mill Road / Company Mill Road – Climax|
|||196||315||196||Neeley Road / Williams Dairy Road – Climax|
|||197||317||197||I-85 north to I-40 – Durham, Raleigh||North end of I-85 overlap|
|US 421 overlaps with Interstate 85 (exits 126 to 121), Interstate 73 (exits 97 to 103), and Interstate 40 (exits 212 to 206)|
|Guilford||Colfax||—||I-40 – Greensboro||Western end of overlap with I-40|
|Forsyth||Kernersville||221||NC 150 east (Macy Grove Road) – Oak Ridge||East end of NC 150 overlap|
|222||NC 66 – Kernersville, Walkertown|
|224||South Main Street – Kernersville|
|227||NC 74||Future I-74, partially opened to traffic on September 5, 2020|
|230||US 158 east (Reidsville Road) – Walkertown, Reidsville||East end of US 158 overlap; eastbound exit and westbound entrance|
|231||Lowery Street / Fifth Street||Eastbound Lowery Street, westbound Fifth Street|
|232A||Martin Luther King Jr. Drive||To Winston-Salem State University|
|232B-C||US 52 / NC 8 (John Gold Memorial Expressway) – Lexington, High Point, Mount Airy, Smith Reynolds Airport||US 52 exits 109A-B|
|233A||Main Street / First Street – Old Salem, Salem College|
|233B||Cherry Street – Convention Center|
|234A||NC 150 west (Peters Creek Parkway)||West end of NC 150 overlap|
|234B||West First Street / Hawthorne Road||Westbound exit and eastbound entrance|
|234C||Cloverdale Avenue||Signed as exit 234 eastbound|
|235 A-B||US 158 west (Stratford Road)||West end of US 158 overlap|
|237A-B||NC 67 (Silas Creek Parkway)||To Wake Forest University, LJVM Coliseum|
|234||377||238||I-40 – Winston-Salem, Statesville|
|235||378||239||Jonestown Road / Hanes Mall Boulavard|
|236||380||240||Peace Haven Road|
|Lewisville||238||383||242||Lewisville-Clemmons Road – Lewisville, Clemmons|
|240||390||244||Williams Road – Lewisville|
|Yadkin||||245||394||249||Dinkins Bottoms Road/Baltimore Road|
|||247||398||251||Spear Bridge Road|
|||249||401||253||Shacktown Road/Old Stage Road|
|||252||406||256||Unifi Industrial Road|
|Yadkinville||253||407||257||US 601 (State Street) – Yadkinville, Mocksville|
|Brooks Crossroads||259||417||263||US 21 – Jonesville|
|260||420||264||Asbury Church Road|
|||262||422||265||I-77 – Elkin, Statesville, Charlotte||Northbound is exit 265A, southbound is exit 265B|
|||264||425||267||Windsor Road/Oak Grove Church Road|
|||269||433||272||To NC 268 (Clingman Road/Somers Road)|
|||273||439||276||To NC 268 (Red, White, and Blue Road/Mathis Farm Road)|
|||274||441||277||Windy Gap Road/Speedway Road|
US 421 Bus. / NC 115 (Statesville Road) – North Wilkesboro, Statesville
|Wilkesboro||282||454||285||Brushy Mountain Road – Wilkesboro|
|283||455||286A||NC 16 south / NC 18 (Cherry Road) – Wilkesboro, Taylorsville, Lenoir||South end of NC 16 overlap|
|283.5||456.2||286B||NC 268 – Wilkesboro|
US 421 Bus. (D Street) – North Wilkesboro
|287||462||NC 16 north – Jefferson||North end of NC 16 overlap|
|Watauga||Deep Gap||304||489||Blue Ridge Parkway|
|305||491||US 221 north – West Jefferson||North end of US 221 overlap|
|Boone||313||504||NC 194 north (Jefferson Road) – Todd||North end of NC 194 overlap|
|314||505||US 221 south / NC 105 south (Highway 105 Extension) – Linville, Banner Elk||South end of US 221 overlap|
|314.5||506.1||US 321 south (Hardin Street) – Blowing Rock||South end of US 321 overlap|
|Vilas||320||510||NC 194 south – Valle Crucis||South end of NC 194 overlap|
|Sugar Grove||321||517||US 321 north – Elizabethton||North end of US 321 overlap|
|||328||528||US 421 north / SR 34 north – Mountain City||Continuation into Tennessee|
|1.000 mi = 1.609 km; 1.000 km = 0.621 mi|
Note – Exit numbers west of Winston-Salem are aligned when US 421 went north around Greensboro in late-1980s/early-1990s. As a result, from realignments in Greensboro, the actual mileage vs. exit number mileage is off by an average of 3.5 miles (5.6 km).
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Though the highway is commonly known as "421" throughout the state, the highway does have other known names it uses locally in areas.
- Burnett Boulevard - Road name briefly used in Wilmington, between Carolina Beach Road and 3rd Street.
- Carolina Beach Road - Road name from Seabreeze to Burnett Boulevard in Wilmington.
- Cornelius Harnett Boulevard - Road name from Main Street to Lillington city limit.
- Cumberland Street - Road name within Dunn city limits.
- Delway Highway - Road name between Harrells and Delway in Sampson County.
- Doc and Merle Watson Highway - Official name of highway between the Wilkes/Watauga county line to Boone.
- Don Buie Highway - Name used from US 1 to Cumnock Road in Sanford
- Faircloth Freeway - Road name within Clinton city limits.
- Fort Fisher Boulevard - Road name from Kure Beach to south terminus of US 421.
- Front Street - Road name from main street to Lillington city limit.
- King Street - Road name within Boone city limits.
- Lake Park Boulevard - Road name within Carolina Beach city limits.
- Jackson Boulevard - Road name within Erwin city limits.
- Joseph M. Hunt Jr Expressway - Road name from Randolph/Guilford county line to I-85; expressway continues on into Greensboro, which was an old US 421 alignment.
- Paul Green Memorial Highway - Road Name from Erwin to Lillington.
- Plain View Highway - Road name from US 13 in Spivey's Corner to I-95 near Dunn.
- Main Street - Road name between Cornelius Harnett Boulevard and Front Street in Lillington.
- Northwest Boulevard - Road name from Clinton to Kitty Fork.
- Spivey's Corner Highway - Road name from Kitty Fork to US 13 in Spivey's Corner.
- Taylors Bridge Highway - Road name from Delway to Clinton.
- Watson Brame Expressway - Road name throughout Wilkes County.
- Wilmington Highway - Road name from the Sampson/Pender county line to Harrells.
- Google (January 31, 2011). "Overview map of US 421 in North Carolina" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved January 31, 2011.
- "NCDOT: Strategic Highway Corridors". Retrieved October 28, 2010.
- "NCDOT: North Carolina Rest Area System". Retrieved 2011-01-27.
- "NCDOT: Scenic Byways". Retrieved January 7, 2011.
- "NC 5 - Cape Fear Run". North Carolina Bike Routes Beta. Walk Bike North Carolina Bicycle Routes. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
- "NC 3 - Ports of Call". North Carolina Bike Routes Beta. Walk Bike North Carolina Bicycle Routes. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
- "NCRoads.com: U.S. 421". Retrieved January 27, 2013.[unreliable source]
- "NCDOT: Business 40". Retrieved November 24, 2011.
- "NCDOT: Business 40 Project Vicinity and Study Area Map" (PDF). Retrieved November 24, 2011.
- Young, Wesley (2018-08-15). "Bridge work on Business 40 rehab moving faster". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 2018-08-31.
- "NCDOT: Salem Parkway/U.S. 421 to Open Months Ahead of Schedule". Retrieved May 9, 2020.
- Young, Wesley (2016-10-21). "Business 40 renamed Salem Parkway". Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "Business 40 Construction Timeline". Winston-Salem Business 40. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
- Hammer, John (2019-09-25). "Gate City Headed for Another Interstate Highway". Rhino Times. Retrieved 2019-10-05.
- "NCDOT: Cape Fear Skyway". Retrieved November 24, 2011.
- "NCDOT: Cape Fear Skyway Project Map" (PDF). Retrieved November 24, 2011.
- "New Route Opening Ahead of Schedule in Forsyth County" (Press release). Raleigh, NC: NCDOT. NCDOT. October 8, 2020. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
- Young, Wesley (September 4, 2020). "6 new lanes, all 65 mph opening from Salem Parkway to Reidsville Road". Winston-Salem Journal. Winston-Salem Journal. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
- Media related to U.S. Route 421 in North Carolina at Wikimedia Commons
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