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Interstate 85 or I -85 is an Interstate Highway in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The highway forms an east-west route in the north of the state, running from the Georgia border at Fair Play through the towns of Greenville and Spartanburg to the North Carolina border at Blacksburg. Interstate 85 is 169 kilometers long.
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I-85 at Greenville.
I-85 at Gaffney, overlooking the ‘Peachoid’ water tower.
Interstate 85 in Georgia comes from Atlanta and crosses the Savannah River at Fair Play, which forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina. I-85 has 2×2 lanes here and follows a 70-kilometer rural stretch to the town of Greenville, bypassing the college town of Clemson and the small town of Anderson some considerable distance away. From Anderson, I-85 already has 2×3 lanes on a longer stretch into the town of Greenville.
I-85 passes through southern Greenville, well outside of downtown, but through the urbanized region. This part of I-85 has some elevation changes. There are interchanges with Interstate 185 and Interstate 385. I-85 then runs through an urban corridor between Greenville and Spartanburg. I-85 provides access to the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport which lies between the two cities. There is also a large BMW factory along the highway.
At Spartanburg, I-85 splits into a northbound bypass and Interstate 85 Business runs closer to downtown. I-85 also has 2×3 lanes along Spartanburg and has an interchange with Interstate 26. I-85 then continues for another 30 miles through more rural territory to the North Carolina border. This route narrows from 2×3 to 2×2 lanes. After Blacksburg the state line follows and Interstate 85 in North Carolina continues to Charlotte.
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Prior to the construction of I-85, US 29 was the area’s primary thoroughfare. The road had been widened to 2×2 lanes between Greenville and Spartanburg before I-85 was built. Traffic was mainly regional during that period, Upstate South Carolina was the most populous area of the state, while Atlanta and Charlotte were still relatively small during that period.
Construction of I-85 was South Carolina’s top priority. This is because Upstate South Carolina, the area around Greenville and Spartanburg, was the most populous region of South Carolina in the 1950s. The four counties on the route of I-85 already had half a million inhabitants in 1960, a diffuse road network but no high-quality roads.
Construction of I-85 in South Carolina began almost immediately after the creation of the Interstate Highways in 1956. In 1959, the first section opened in the north of the state, east of Spartanburg. Construction of I-85 proceeded at a rapid pace, the entire route was completed by September 8, 1964. This was the first Interstate Highway in South Carolina to be completed according to plan.
Detour at Spartanburg
The original I-85 was closer to Spartanburg and had substandard features. Due to the increased traffic, a large-scale widening of I-85 was desired, but the passage through Spartanburg would be very expensive and complex to widen. As a result, it was decided to divert I-85 here over a length of 14 kilometers via a northern bypass with 2×3 lanes. The diversion opened to traffic in 1995, the old route was then renumbered Interstate 85 Business.
I-85 has been widened to 2×3 lanes over increasing distances due to increased through traffic between Atlanta and Charlotte. The first 2×3 lane section was located between US 29 near Anderson and the west side of Greenville, which was widened to 2×3 lanes before 1994. In 2003, the stretch from US 178 at Anderson to US 29 northeast of Anderson was widened to 2×3 lanes.
With the construction of Interstate 185, the interchange with I-85 was also reconstructed in the mid-1990s. The original interchange was a fork onto US 29 to open up downtown Greenville.
The passage through Greenville has been widened in phases. Prior to 1994, a 10-kilometer stretch of 2×3 lanes was planned between US 276 and a little east of the interchange with I-385. Presumably in the second half of the 1990s, the section between I-185 and US 276 was widened to 2×3 lanes. Presumably in the late 1990s or early 2000s, I-85 was completely widened to 2×3 lanes between Greenville and Spartanburg.
Presumably in the early 2000s, a small stretch of I-85 east of Spartanburg was widened to 2×3 lanes. In 2017, I-85 began widening further to the North Carolina border. Under this project, the highway has been widened in phases for 47 kilometers northeast, starting at Spartanburg and from there to the North Carolina border.
Reconstruction in Greenville
Between 2014 and 2020, the interchange between I-85 and I-385 in eastern Greenville was extensively reconstructed. A short section of I-85 has also been widened to 2×4 lanes. Costing $231 million, the project was South Carolina’s largest contract since 2001. The project was awarded in August 2014 and traffic was completed in December 2019, with other work stalling through 2020.
Every day, 41,000 vehicles cross the Georgia border, rising to 62,000 vehicles from Anderson and 79,000 vehicles just west of Greenville. Just before the I-185 interchange, 100,000 vehicles per day are in service, peaking at 130,000 vehicles per day just after the I-385 interchange in Greenville. The intensities then drop to 86,000 vehicles on the quietest part between Greenville and Spartanburg. The Spartanburg bypass has 60,000 to 75,000 vehicles per day, after which the intensities gradually decrease from 60,000 to 40,000 vehicles on the border with the state of North Carolina.