Interstate 20 (I-20) is a major east-west interstate highway that begins in western Texas, then serves as a connection through the northern tier of the Deep South states. Along its 1,539 miles, I-20 serves as a major artery through several metropolitan areas.
I-20 starts east of Kent, Texas, at I-10 and ends at I-95 in Florence, South Carolina. Built to connect Texas to the East Coast, construction on I-20 began in 1957. Between Texas and South Carolina, I-20 traverses northern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. It connects the major cities (from west to east) of Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas; Shreveport, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia; and Columbia, South Carolina.
I-20 in Texas
Interstate 20 was one of the original interstate highways (those that ended with a “5” or a “0”), planned in the early to mid-1950s. In Texas, I-20 was approved by the Texas State Highway Commission in 1962 with a length of 634 miles (it now runs for 636.08 miles in the Lone Star State).
I-20 starts at a fork with I-10, east of Kent, Texas. The highway travels east-northeastward through the cities of Odessa, Midland and Abilene, then turns eastward towards Fort Worth and Dallas.
Originally, I-20 was planned to pass through downtown Fort Worth and Dallas along the route that is now I-30. When the highway opened in the 1960s through 1977, I-20 went through the heart of the Metroplex via the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike. The route was shifted when additional money for I-20 was disbursed from interstate highway funds. (The federal funding formula for new interstate highways allocated only a certain number of miles to each state.) Texas highway planners had to develop an effective method to construct an interstate bypass south of both cities. I-20’s final route, including adjustments through Dallas-Fort Worth, was approved in 1971.
Then I-20 was rerouted to go through the southern sections of Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Dallas and Mesquite.
Moving from west to east, I-820 is the first offshoot of I-20. I-820 is a beltway route around the west, north and east sides of Fort Worth. East of Fort Worth, I-20 is between six and eight lanes wide in each direction as it travels through Arlington, Grand Prairie and Duncanville to south Dallas. Leaving Dallas, the highway passes through Mesquite, where it transitions from urban to rural areas in the Piney Woods region of east Texas.
The highway continues running eastward from Terrell, bypassing Tyler, Longview and Marshall before crossing the Louisiana border near Waskom.
In the Bayou State, I-20’s length is just under 190 miles as it generally parallels U.S. Route 80 through northern Louisiana. As it enters Louisiana, I-20 enters the Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area. Continuing its route east across Shreveport, I-220, a bypass to the north, splits off. Then I-20 is combined with I-49 for 5.8 miles. East of Bossier City, I-20 passes near Barksdale Air Force Base.
I-20 then runs through hilly terrain and a generally rural area of the state. Paralleling US 80, the highway passes the small cities of Minden, Grambling and Ruston before it comes to Monroe. From there, the terrain flattens as the highway travels 72 miles to the Mississippi River. I-20 spans the river across the Vicksburg Bridge, which is a four-lane cantilever span.
Coming off the Vicksburg Bridge, I-20 immediately enters Vicksburg. Then, between Edwards and Clinton, I-20 follows the original two-lane route of US 80 (many of the nation’s interstates were built along the routes of former U.S. Routes). The highway runs for 40 of its total of nearly 155 miles in Mississippi as it heads east to the state capital of Jackson, which is also the state’s largest city. I-20 widens in Jackson to six and eight lanes; it also overlaps US 49 and I-55 through the city’s southern section. The I-55 overlap ends at “The Stack,” a three-level interchange with multiple flyovers.
From there, I-20 continues eastward to Meridian. The highway then begins an overlap with I-59 for nearly 160 miles. I-59 is part of a regional corridor between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to Birmingham and then Nashville. The I-20/I-59 overlap through Meridian was not completed until the mid-1970s.
The conjoined I-20/I-59 crosses into Alabama near York; the two interstates overlap as they pass through western Alabama to Tuscaloosa and eastward toward Birmingham. From Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, I-20/I-59 is at least six lanes wide. There is a junction with I-459, which serves as a northern/eastern bypass for through traffic around Birmingham and Jefferson County.
In Birmingham, the two highways pass through downtown, intersect I-65 (known locally as the “Malfunction Junction”) and then split east of the Birmingham airport. Although Malfunction Junction has been reconfigured, the nickname remains…
Interstate 20 briefly turns southeast, cutting across Red Mountain. There is a four-level interchange that joins I-20 with I-459 near Irondale. I-20’s path through Alabama is just under 215 miles. As it continues eastward, the interstate passes Oxford/Anniston, the Talladega National Forest and the Talladega Superspeedway.
From Alabama, I-20 enters Georgia near Tallapoosa. The highway passes through rural areas of western Georgia before it approaches the Atlanta metropolitan area. It widens to six lanes initially, and I-20 intersects the “Perimeter Highway” (I-285) west (and later east) of Atlanta. The highway widens further (as many as 16 lanes) as it passes through areas south of downtown Atlanta. The Capitol Hill interchange allows vehicles to exit I-20 onto the “Downtown Connector” (I-75/85) near the Georgia State Capitol.
It then continues eastward through Atlanta suburbs and then through eastern Georgia until it exits the state, crossing the Savannah River at Augusta.
In total, I-20 crosses nearly 203 miles of Georgia. Along its length, I-20 is co-named in several places. From the Alabama state line to I-285 it is named the “Tom Murphy Freeway” (a long-time Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives). Inside I-285 it is also named the “Ralph David Abernathy Freeway” (Abernathy was a civil rights icon). From its second junction with I-285 east of Atlanta, I-20 is also named the Purple Heart Highway until its junction with US 129/US 441/SR 24 in Madison. Lastly, it is named the Carl Sanders Highway (a former governor of Georgia) from US 129/US 441/SR 24 to the South Carolina state line.
East of its second intersection with I-285 at Covington, I-20 narrows from six to four lanes as it leaves the eastern edge of the Atlanta metropolitan area. For the next 150 miles, I-20 travels through pine forests before it reaches the western suburbs of Augusta. I-20 intersects I-520, also known as the Bobby Jones Expressway. It is an interstate loop that carries traffic around the west and south sides of Augusta. Originally I-520 ended before it reached the Savannah River; but two extensions carry it into South Carolina.
Construction of the “original” I-20 in Georgia began in August 1958 and concluded in November 1980. But as motorists know about all U.S. interstates, various construction projects continue to this day.
As I-20 leaves Augusta, it crosses the Savannah River and enters South Carolina. It turns northeastward, bypassing Aiken and Lexington before reaching the state capital of Columbia.
The bridge over the Savannah River was the first section of the interstate completed in South Carolina (in 1965); the last section completed was between US 401 and I-95 (opened in August 1975).
Most of the 141.5 miles of I-20 in South Carolina are designated the Strom Thurman Freeway, named after a U.S. Senator who served from 1954 until his death in 2002.
Although I-20 bypasses Columbia to the north, it forms part of the Capital Beltway, which also includes I-26 along the west side of Columbia and I-77 (Southeastern Beltway) to the south and east.
I-20 turns northeastward again as it leaves central South Carolina. Its final 60 miles runs through a mixture of pine forest, agricultural areas and wetlands. I-20 passes Fort Jackson and Camden, crosses the Wateree River and then turns due east. As it approaches Florence, I-20 ends at its junction with I-95. At that point, a 2-mile extension of I-20 continues into Florence, but as Business Spur 20.
Parallel U.S. Routes
Interstate 20 replaced US 80 from I-10 in west Texas to eastern Dallas. The interstate parallels or overlaps the remainder of US 80 east to Cuba, Alabama. At that point US 11 accompanies I-20/I-59 northeast to Birmingham. US 11 continues along the route of I-59, while US 78 joins the I-20 corridor east to Atlanta.
US 78 diverges from I-20 to Stone Mountain; US 278 continues with I-20 to Augusta. The east-west portion of US 1 begins in Augusta and runs parallel to I-20 to Columbia and Camden. There is no U.S. Highway parallel or overlapping I-20 to Florence.
Possible extension of I-20
As part of the High Priority Corridor 5 project in South Carolina and North Carolina, a proposal by the then-governor of North Carolina was made in 2003 to extend I-20 to the east – from Florence to Wilmington, North Carolina. The extension of I-20 would follow the current route of US 76.
I-20 would meet and overlap I-74 at Chadbourn, North Carolina. The combined interstates would continue east toward Wilmington, passing Whiteville and Bolton. The two interstates would separate then; I-20 would continue into Wilmington (intersecting I-140), while I-74 turns south and follows the current route of NC 211 toward Myrtle Beach. The extension of I-20 would cross the Brunswick and Cape Fear rivers, but not connect directly with I-40, which ends northeast of Wilmington.
Although the I-20 extension plan has considerable support in southeastern North Carolina, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has indicated that it is not interested in upgrading the South Carolina portion of US 76 to interstate highway conditions. Instead, the SCDOT hopes to build I-73, which would terminate near Myrtle Beach. To date, neither plan has been approved by the Federal Highway Administration or the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.