Governor Martin and His Campaign Promise to Complete I-40

Construction on the final link of I-40 near the Pender-New Hanover County line, circa 1985. Image from the Wilmington Star-News.On June 29, 1990, Governor Jim Martin dedicated the final segment of Interstate 40, a 2,554-mile highway that stretches from Wilmington to Barstow, California. The first Interstate-funded construction on I-40 nationwide had taken place in Haywood County more than three decades earlier.

Nearly 3,000 people were in attendance for the opening ceremon

The day’s festivities continued with an ice cream social at a rest area west of Warsaw and a final ceremony at Wilmington’s Grace Baptist Church not from the eastern end of the interstate.

Though an extension of I-40 through Raleigh to Wilmington appeared in the final Interstate System map adopted by the Eisenhower administration, opposition to the Raleigh-to-Wilmington stretch remained strong through the early 1980s. Major pushes by Governor Jim Hunt, local officials and Wilmington area state legislators were no match for the opposition led by U.S. Senator Jesse Helms.

A sign marking the beginning of I-40 in New Hanover County, circa 2001. Image from the State Library.Martin finally turned the tide after he was elected governor in 1984 and construction began to move forward. The final price tag for the 122-mile Raleigh-to-Wilmington project was $417 million.

The benefits of the project, which cut an hour off the travel time between Raleigh and Wilmington were realized fairly quickly. In the first decade following I-40’s opening, tourist spending in New Hanover County increased by more than 52 percent, according to a study done by state Department of Commerce.

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