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Interstate 77

Interstate 77

Total length: 614 miles (988 km)
Southern terminus: West Columbia, SC, at JCT I-26
Northern terminus: Cleveland, OH, at JCT I-90

States traversed & length in each:

  • South Carolina — 91 miles (146 km)
  • North Carolina — 106 miles (171 km)
  • Virginia — 67 miles (108 km)
  • West Virginia — 187 miles (301 km)
  • Ohio — 163 miles (262 km)

Major cities along route:

  • Columbia, SC
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Beckley, WV
  • Charleston, WV
  • Parkersburg, WV
  • Canton, OH
  • Akron, OH
  • Cleveland, OH

Junctions with non-related Interstates:

Related loops and spurs:

  • Interstate 277 — 4.5 miles long; 180° loop, east of I-77, that together with I-77 encircles downtown Charlotte, NC; termini at I-77 Exits 9 & 11
  • Interstate 277 — 3.7 miles long; spur from I-77 southeast of downtown Akron, OH, to I-76 southwest of downtown; exit and mile numbers reversed (zero point at I-76, highest numbering at I-77); I-77 Exit 122B

Length I’ve traveled: Entire length

Time zones:
Eastern — Entire length

Counties traversed:
South Carolina — Lexington, Richland, Fairfield, Chester, York

North Carolina — Mecklenburg, Iredell, Yadkin, Surry

Virginia — Carroll, Wythe, Bland

West Virginia — Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette, Kanawha, Jackson, Wood

Ohio — Washington, Noble, Guernsey, Tuscarawas, Stark, Summit, Cuyahoga

A quick hypertext drive: Interstate 77 begins southwest of South Carolina’s capital of Columbia, and proceeds to wrap around the southern and eastern sides of that city as a largely flat six-lane highway. A few miles north of Interstate 20, I-77 narrows to four lanes, and continues that way for almost 60 miles (96 km) through flat to gently rolling terrain. Near Rock Hill, I-77 widens first to six lanes, then very quickly to eight, and remains at eight lanes until just beyond the North Carolina state line.

There is a lane drop going north at the Interstate 485 interchange; except for a very short four-lane section in between ramps at this interchange, most of I-77 through Charlotte remains at six lanes. The downtown area and Ericsson Stadium (home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers) are both clearly visible just to the east of I-77 around milepost 10. Three miles north of there, the two directions of I-77 cross each other for about ¼ mile through the Interstate 85 interchange; traffic on I-77 actually flows to the left of the median here. This was done to reduce the overall footprint of the I-77/I-85 interchange and thus conserve space for a separate I-85 interchange less than ½ mile east of I-77.

Immediately north of I-85, I-77 widens to eight lanes (three general-purpose lanes plus one HOV lane each direction). The HOV lanes, just added a few years ago in a reconstruction project, extend for about 10 miles; at this point, I-77 very quickly drops back to four lanes. There is more than enough traffic to justify at least six lanes all the way to Statesville, and as a result, this stretch from northern Mecklenburg County to I-40 tends to be horribly congested. The highway crosses scenic Lake Norman around milepost 29, on the Mecklenburg/Iredell county line.

Approaching Statesville, I-77 becomes noticeably more hilly, going up and down several long hills. The interchange with I-40 is still the original diamond-cloverleaf; a lot of I-77 traffic seems to exit to I-40 here. North of I-40, the hills aren’t quite as noticeable, but there is a definite upward elevation trend as I-77 slowly climbs through the northern Piedmont region. This area is noted for its many wineries, which are well advertised on highway signs and billboards throughout Yadkin and Surry counties.

One mile into Virginia, I-77 begins to climb one of the best-known mountain grades in all of the eastern United States: Fancy Gap. It’s not an especially steep grade, averaging 4% to 4.5%, but at 6½ miles, it is one of the longest grades in the entire Interstate system. The elevation changes from just below 1,300 ft. (396 m) at the bottom to over 2,800 ft. (853 m) at the top, which is the highest point on Interstates in Virginia. The next 25 miles up to Interstate 81 are very hilly, with one long downhill that brings I-77 down to about 2,100 ft. (640 m) perhaps 10 miles south of I-81. The bridge over the New River was just re-decked and widened in the last couple years; the impressive engineering work that went into building it can be observed from U.S. Route 52 down in the valley below.

At Fort Chiswell, VA, I-77 joins I-81 for a very interesting nine-mile “wrong-way” multiplex. Drivers are simultaneously going in one direction on I-77 and the opposite direction on I-81! (For example, if you are northbound on I-77, you are also southbound on I-81, or vice versa; the road actually runs almost due east-west here.) This multiplex is six lanes wide until I-77 breaks off just north of Wytheville and heads to the north, back into the mountains.

Just seven miles north of its split from I-81, I-77 climbs a short hill and heads into the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel, the first of two tunnels to be found in Virginia. About 20 miles further north, after some more up-and-down mountain terrain, I-77 reaches the other one — the East River Mountain Tunnel. The Virginia/West Virginia state line is actually in the middle of the tunnel, underneath the crest of the mountain; a small, barely-noticeable green sign on the wall of the tunnel indicates this. The highway climbs to around Princeton, WV, then flattens out for a short stretch.

At mile marker 9, the West Virginia Turnpike begins along I-77. However, the first toll booth does not come until mile marker 29, just north of the Flat Top/Ghent exit. The town of Flat Top shares its name with the mountain whose summit comprises the highest point (3,252 ft./991 m) on both the Turnpike and I-77; this is around mile marker 26, not far south of the first toll booth. After this, I-77 descends rather considerably, before climbing a short but steep hill to its junction with Interstate 64 south of Beckley. Bypassing Beckley to the west, I-64/77 flattens out a bit. Tamarack, a famous arts/crafts museum billed as “the best of West Virginia,” can be accessed from Exit 45.

One of the flatter, faster parts of the West Virginia Turnpike exists just north of Beckley, although traffic does have to stop for another toll booth at milepost 57. A few miles north of that, though, near the town of Pax, I-77 enters the Paint Creek Gorge, a very winding section with a 60-mph (96 km/h) speed limit. Though the lowered speed limit remains, I-64/77 leaves the Paint Creek Gorge at milepost 74, climbing and then descending a pair of two-mile, 5% grades to reach Cabin Creek. It then parallels Cabin Creek through the rest of the slower, winding section, and one more toll booth, before reaching the Kanawha River and straightening significantly at milepost 83.

From here to Charleston, the state capital, I-64/77 parallels the west bank of the Kanawha, providing an excellent view of its entire valley here. At milepost 95, the highway crosses the Kanawha on the Chuck Yeager Bridge, which is named for the West Virginia native who was the first airplane pilot to break the sound barrier. Here the Turnpike ends, and West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH) maintenance begins. West Virginia’s Capitol, with its distinctive golden dome, is easily visible from I-77, as is much of downtown Charleston.

On the east side of downtown, I-64 and I-77 finally end their 61-mile (98 km) pairing, and I-77 makes a 90° turn to the east here, spawning Interstate 79 just two miles later. After climbing a hill to leave the Charleston area, much of the rest of I-77 in West Virginia is quite hilly, though not nearly as mountainous as the stretches further south. In fact, hilly terrain persists on I-77 across the Ohio River and well into the Buckeye State, at least beyond the Interstate 70 interchange in Cambridge.

In southern Tuscarawas County, Ohio, I-77 starts to flatten out again, staying fairly flat for the rest of its existence. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, in Canton, can be accessed from Exit 107A. Staying in a semi-suburban area, I-77 next heads for Akron, the downtown of which it bypasses first to the east, and then multiplexed with the eastern I-76 on the north. Breaking away from I-76, I-77 continues northwest for several miles, then heads north to a weird interchange with Interstate 271 that is missing several ramps. The interchange with I-80, the Ohio Turnpike, originally was indirect but had direct-access ramps added in the late 1990s.

After I-80, I-77 presses on toward downtown Cleveland. North of I-480, a fair bit of I-77 is depressed below ground level with six lanes. After crossing the I-490 downtown bypass, I-77 turns to the northwest to approach its terminus at I-90, in the shadows of Jacobs Field and downtown Cleveland.

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