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 ceremony at the interchange of I-40 and North Carolina 50/55 just outside of Newton Grove, where 900 pounds of barbecue and a descent by the Fort Bragg's Green Beret Sport Parachute Team were also part of the fun.

A sign marking the beginning of I-40 in Brunswick County, circa 2001. Image from the State Library
A sign marking the beginning of I-40 in Brunswick County, circa 2001. Image from the State Library

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.

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.

Other related resources:

· Highways on NCpedia

· Images of cars, trucks, buses and more throughout time from the State Archives

· The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer

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