US 421 to become I-685 from Greensboro to Sanford

Upgrading the highway to interstate standards will take years

NC Transportation Board member Lisa Mathis and Transportation Secretary Joey Hopkins stand next to a Future I-685 sign. PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal
Lisa Mathis and Joey Hopkins stand next to the newly unveiled Future Interstate 685 sing during the Future Interstate 685 Sign unveiling in Liberty, NC on May 20, 2024. PJ WARD-BROWN/NORTH STATE JOURNAL

LIBERTY — State and local leaders gathered Monday in Randolph County to celebrate the designation of U.S. Highway 421 as the future Interstate 685. The event, held next to the under-construction Toyota Battery Manufacturing plant, featured the unveiling of new Future I-685 signs that will be going up along the route from Greensboro to Sanford.

“Today’s unveiling of the Future Interstate 685 sign is a true testament to the collaboration and teamwork that is fueling our economic momentum here in the Carolina Core,” said Loren Hill, Carolina Core Regional Economic Development Director, at the event.

I-685 will eventually run from Interstate 85 to Interstate 95, improving connectivity and commerce across the region. According to NC Transportation Secretary Joey Hopkins, upgrading US-421 to interstate standards will take place in phases over many years, coordinating with local governments. Two new interchanges are already under construction near the Toyota plant site and will open in the coming months.

The future interstate is expected to be a major draw for new businesses to locate in the area. “One of the main things [businesses] look for is the transportation network,” said Sec. Hopkins. “They all want to be adjacent to or near an interstate.”

Designating US-421 as a future interstate has been a key initiative spearheaded by the Piedmont Triad Partnership since launching the Carolina Core brand in 2018 for the region anchored by Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point and Fayetteville. The region has seen $20 billion in investment and 50,000 new jobs announced in recent years from companies around the world.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and former Sen. Richard Burr were instrumental in getting congressional approval for the future interstate in 2021. Regional leaders are now seeking an additional future interstate designation for US-421 north of Winston-Salem.

The Toyota battery plant and Wolfspeed semiconductor factory, both under construction a few miles apart, represent some of the biggest economic development projects in the state, bringing thousands of jobs and billions in investment to the region. “This is really the heart of that interstate,” said Randolph County Commissioner Darrell Frye. “We’re just ripe for future opportunities like this,” added Sec. Hopkins.