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End of US highway 311

View a map showing this route.

Additional research and/or photo credits: Mark Clifton; Chris Curley; George Davis; Bob Ellis; Martin Karner; Alex Nitzman; Adam Prince; Mike Roberson; Opie Roberts; Michael Summa; Mac Watkins

Approx. time period North terminus South terminus
1926-1932 Roanoke, VA Aberdeen, NC
1932-1934 Roanoke, VA Rowland, NC
1934-1966 Madison, NC Asheboro, NC
1966-1973 Madison, NC Randleman, NC (old)
1973-2003 Madison, NC Randleman, NC (new)
2003-2012 Eden, NC Randleman, NC (new)
2013-present Danville, VA Randleman, NC (new)

At first glance, it's puzzling how this quirky little highway was assigned the number "311" - or really how it even ended up with a US designation at all: at its closest point, its implied "parent" (US 11) is still a good 100 miles distant. But originally the route was much longer - and on the north it did connect with US 11: in Roanoke VA. A 1929 map shows this junction was at Campbell Avenue and Jefferson Street. The photo below shows that intersection as it appeared back then:

George Davis, c. 1927 (Library of Virginia)

Looks like it was a major junction for the trolley system as well - hopefully it wasn't too long before they finshed getting those railroad ties buried under pavestones.

US 311's southern extent was longer too: at first it served Aberdeen NC, coming into town on what is now NC hwy. 5. At the time, US 1 was on Pinehurst Street. The shot below is looking north on Pinehurst:

Google Maps Street View, 2008

That was US 1, which continued ahead, eventually joining its current routing on Sandhills Boulevard. I'm not sure whether US 311 came in on Keith Street (ending where the car is at far left) or on NC 5 (which is the intersection in the background).

Later US 311 was even extended all the way down to Rowland NC - albeit very briefly. Below is a view from its former south end:

Watkins, Jan. 2008

That's looking south on US 301 (Bond Street), which formerly carried US 217. For a time, US 311 began to the right on Main Street...

...but within a year or two, the south end of US 311 was truncated to Asheboro NC. The photo below is looking east on Salisbury Street:

Google Maps Street View, 2008

I believe this was US 64, and the south beginning of US 311 was to the left on Fayetteville Street. That was the case until 1966, when the US 311 designation was again truncated, this time to Randleman NC. The photo below is looking north on Main Street; downtown Randleman is about a mile in that direction:

Nitzman, 2000

This road used to serve as US 220 - and so this is where US 311 used to end. Now that US 220 is routed onto the freeway just west of here, Main is designated Business 220. So US 311 now ends about a half-mile west (left) of this point, at its interchange with modern US 220 (which is also I-73/I-74). That interchange is shown in the photo below:

Nitzman, 2000

The perspective on this shot really confused me at first, but I finally figured it out when I saw a map of this interchange: We're looking northwest at the south beginning of US 311. The off-ramp for northbound I-73/74/US 220 traffic is to the left, just behind the camera. The bridge in the middleground passes over the freeway. North is to the right - but if one wanted to go north again on US 220, the entrance ramp is to the left here; it loops back around to the right to go under the overpass. The on-ramp for southbound 220 is across the bridge and then left.

Heading back the opposite direction, the "End" used to look like this...

L: Curley, 2000 -- R:
Ellis, May 2005

...but it's since been replaced:

Clifton, 2014

In the distance you can see the traffic signal marking US 311's first Randleman endpoint, at the junction with old US 220.

When US 220 was extended southward into North Carolina in 1934, the north end of US 311 was truncated to Madison. The photo below is looking east on Academy Street:

Curley, 2000

I was surprised to hear Chris' report that the US 311 designation ended not at its interchange with the modern US 220 freeway, but at Market Street (or historic US 220, which is now Business US 220) in the middle of town - about a mile shy of the freeway. Incidentally, this junction also marked the north end of the short-lived US 411[II]. Here are more photos - this next one was looking south on Market:

Summa, 1996

Until 1934, this was southbound US 311, but at the time of this photo the designation began to the right. This next shot shows what used to be the first US 311 reassurance marker heading west on Academy:

Summa, 1996

In 2003, AASHTO approved NCDoT's request to extend the US 311 designation northeast a few miles to Eden. Actually, the route bypasses town to the south, and US 311 ended at its junction with NC 14:

Google Maps Street View, 2011
Roberts, Aug. 2011

That's where NCDoT maps since about 2003 have showed US 311 ending, but this road was not actually signed as US 311 anywhere north of its old Madison endpoint until Aug. 2011... eight years after its extension was approved! Below is a close-up of the junction signage just visible in the distance...

Prince, Oct. 2007

...and if you look at the far left side, you can see the backside of another assembly. Turning around in order to see the front, we find that it was a nice "Begin US 311" assembly:

Roberts, Aug. 2011

At first this extension to Eden was perplexing to me, but it finally began to make sense in early 2012, a few months after NC signed US 311 to this junction: it became apparent that NC had been working with neighboring Virginia to extend US 311 up to Danville. Eden had been simply a temporary endpoint.

I'm not a big fan of US 311. In 1934, when it was truncated and became a short intra-state highway, it ceased to be deserving of US route status. The only segment that remained was the part that included a weird 90-degree change-of-direction in Winston-Salem. In other words, US 311 didn't even function as the shortest route between its endpoints. So it should've been redesignated either as a state route (or routes), or as US 220 Alternate, because it essentially became an alternate routing of US 220 that made a loop through Winston-Salem and High Point. In the 1980s traffic was rerouted onto a freeway serving those two cities, so now US 311 has a different character on opposite sides of Winston-Salem: busy freeway to the southeast, quiet surface highway to the northeast. That, along with the direction-change, even further emphasized US 311's split personality: these are really two separate roads that have no reason to be joined with a single number.

When NC and VA decided to bring the Eden-Danville corridor into the US route network, they had the perfect opportunity to make things right. You see, US 360 heads southwest into Danville and ends there. So the US 360 designation could've been extended further southwest to Eden, and from there it could've continued southwest to Winston-Salem, replacing US 311 all the way to where it joins US 52 at exit 110B. US 360 would then be a respectable 300-mile long route, serving a consistent northeast-to-southwest corridor through two states:

(You can view the full version of that map here.)

As you can see, that would leave only a short segment of US 311: from I-40's exit 196 in Winston-Salem, to its current terminus at the US 220 freeway in Randleman. That corridor is now served by I-74, so the US 311 designation there is superfluous, and could be decommissioned.

I pointed this out to officials in both NC and VA prior to the AASHTO meeting (you can read the letter here, along with a reply from NC). Unfortunately, my advice was not heeded: they went ahead with the request as originally planned, and AASHTO gave its blessing in November 2012. So here's what we ended up with:

(You can view the full version of that map here.)

I hope that adequately illustrates what I mean when I say that US 311 in its current form just doesn't make any sense. I still hold out hope that NC and VA will fix this situation. But for now, the north end of US 311 is in Danville. Signage went up in fall 2013; below is the assembly posted at the north end of US 311:

Karner, May 2013

That's on Berry Hill Road, at Martinsville Highway (or Business US 58). Below we're looking west on Bus. 58:

Karner, May 2013

The north beginning of US 311 is to the left on what used to be VA secondary route 863 (Berry Hill). It wasn't signed at the time of that photo, but things changed that October:

Roberts, Nov. 2013

The overpass visible in the distance is mainline US 58, or Danville Expressway. Under my proposal, US 360 should be extended with US 58 to that point, then exit and come to this intersection, and then continue to the left, taking over for US 311 all the way to Winston-Salem.