GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – City leaders in Greenville say the absence of an interstate hampers its efforts to attract new businesses.

“How do we move forward on the interstate designation with 264,” asked Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas.

It’s a question he’s asked for years. An interstate highway to Greenville wouldn’t necessarily mean you’d have a shorter commute. What it would mean is more business opportunities in eastern North Carolina.

“As most know, I’m a core believer in infrastructure,” said Thomas. “Your highways, your roads, lighting and how all that fits together is not planned in months. It’s planned in decades. So from day one we’ve pushed very hard for our 264 corridor, pushing to get that for interstate designation.”

Greenville is the 10th largest city in North Carolina, the largest without an interstate.

So what does it take to change that? Unfortunately, it’s much more than putting up a new sign along the highway.

“I would like it to be,” said Kevin Mulligan, Dir. of Public Works – City of Greenville. “But we’d all like it to be, but it’s not. You get that designation, that shield, that interstate shield. It’s difficult to come by. But there’s a plan in place that we’ve been speaking with our local officials, both in D.C. and in Raleigh to have that happen.”

U.S. 264 from Raleigh to Greenville is a limited access freeway, meaning there are no stop lights. The speed limit is 70 miles an hour, just as you’d see on an interstate like I-95.

But it’s not an interstate. Interstate highways have to meet certain standards.

The good news, it wouldn’t take much to upgrade.

“And we have a road that’s almost built, 98% built to interstate standards so it would be the cheapest interstate in the country to do 30 miles at $30 million,” explained Mulligan.

Even if the upgrades were made, it’s up to the Federal Highway Administration to make the final call to officially make the stretch of road an interstate.

That’s why Mayor Thomas said he’ll continue to work with state and federal lawmakers to help make that happen, “We make our case that every part of this state needs to thrive for North Carolina thrive.”

There will soon be other interstate routes in the east.

In May the American Association of State and Transportation officials approved I-42 for the U.S. 70 corridor between I-40 and Morehead City, and I-87 for U.S. 64 & 17 between Raleigh and the Virginia state line.