I-85 (nc)

This article is about the section of Interstate 85 in North Carolina. For the entire length of the highway, see Interstate 85.

Interstate 85
;">Route information
Maintained by NCDOT
Existed: 1958 – present
;">Major junctions
South end: I-85 at the SC line near Blacksburg, SC
  I-485 in Charlotte (twice)
I-77 / US 21 in Charlotte
I-85 Bus. / US 29 / US 52 / US 70 near Lexington
I-74 / US 311 near Archdale
I-73 / US 421 in Greensboro
I-40 near McLeansville
US 1 in Henderson
North end: I-85 at the VA line near Bracey, VA
;">Highway system

In the U.S. state of North Carolina, Interstate 85 (I-85) scales the state for 234.6 miles (377.6 km) from the South Carolina border to the Virginia border. As the second-longest interstate in the state (behind Interstate 40), it provides an important link between the cities of Atlanta, Greenville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C..

Route description

I-85 enters the state from Cherokee County, South Carolina near Grover in Cleveland County, which is part of the Charlotte metropolitan area After only a few miles, the highway enters Gaston County.

Near Kings Mountain, I-85 turns from a northeast trajectory to an eastward one and goes through Gastonia before crossing the Catawba River and entering Charlotte. At Gastonia, the highway widens from four to six lanes, and stays at six lanes until it reaches Belmont, where the highway widens again to eight lanes.

In Charlotte, I-85 passes north of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and goes by a number of retail centers before turning northeastward again just west of Uptown Charlotte. The highway bypasses the downtown area, but several exits do provide access to the area. A partial wrong-way interchange exists at the exit with Interstate 77 north of Uptown.

The highway actually lies within the city limits of Charlotte for most of its route through Mecklenburg County. As a result, none of the exit signs list "Charlotte" as a destination for the intersecting routes. This can be confusing to motorists not familiar with the region, who often don't realize that they are actually within the city limits of Charlotte when searching for an exit that will take them to Bank of America Stadium, Time Warner Cable Arena, or other destinations in Uptown Charlotte. The route through Charlotte traverses a heavily commercialized section in the northern portion of the city that is more suburban than urban in character, with light industry such as truck terminals, warehouses, small manufacturing facilities, and small office parks lining the highway.

After Charlotte, I-85 continues northeastward into Cabarrus County, passing by the cities of Concord and Kannapolis. It drops from 8 lanes to 4 lanes between exit 49 (near Charlotte Motor Speedway and Concord Mills Mall) and exit 68 near the Rowan County town of China Grove, at which point it increases to 8 lanes again.

Approximately 70 miles (110 km) northeast of the Charlotte area is the Triad area, anchored by the cities of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point. I-85 bypasses High Point and also largely bypasses Greensboro. Up until February 2004, I-85 went through the heart of Greensboro and joined Interstate 40 near downtown. Today, I-85 is routed along the Greensboro Urban Loop and meets I-40 east of downtown. Its former route is now known as Business 85.

Interstates 85 and 40 remain joined as they continue eastward to the Triangle region, anchored by the cities of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. West of Durham near Hillsborough, the two highways split, with I-40 heading southeast toward Chapel Hill and Raleigh while I-85 continues eastward through Durham, then northeastward as it exits the city. The highway bypasses Oxford and Henderson before crossing into Mecklenburg County, Virginia.

Alternate names

Though the highway is commonly known as "Interstate 85" or "I-85" throughout the state, the highway does have other known names it uses locally in areas.

  • Blue Star Memorial Highway – official North Carolina honorary name of Interstate 85 throughout the state (approved: May 5, 1967).[1][2]
  • Jeff Gordon Expressway – official North Carolina name of I-85 from Charlotte city limit to the Mecklenburg/Cabarrus county line in Northeast Mecklenburg County (1.6 miles (2.6 km)).[3] It is named in honor of NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon (dedicated May 25, 2012).[4][5][6]
  • Sam Hunt Freeway – official North Carolina name of I-85/I-40 from the Guilford County line to one mile east of NC 54 in Graham (approved: September 5, 1997).[2]
  • Senator Marshall Arthur Rauch Highway – official North Carolina name of Interstate 85 through Gaston County (approved: October 3, 1997)[2]
  • William James Pharr Bridge – official North Carolina name of Bridge over South Fork River on Interstate 85 in Gaston County (approved: August 5, 1994).[2]
  • Cameron Morrison Bridge – official North Carolina name of Bridge over Catawba River on Interstate 85 between Gaston and Mecklenburg counties (approved: March 11, 1983). It is named in honor of Cameron A. Morrison, known as the Good Roads Governor.[2]


Parts of Interstate 85 were already constructed before federal aid was available in the 1950s, as the state had been constructing sections of the Interstate Highway System since 1949. The Lexington Bypass north of Lexington - which at the time was signed U.S. 29 and U.S. 70 - is now a part of Business I-85.[7]

One planned road was the Salisbury bypass, 15 miles (24 km) long with a $1 million 880-foot (270 m) twin-span bridge over the Yadkin River. Construction on the bridge started in 1955 (this date is shown on a plaque, and most sources have used the date), but the lanes were not as wide as federal standards required, and the road had a sharp curve north of the bridge. Both of these characteristics saved money.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 provided for 90 percent federal funding of highways that would become part of the Interstate Highway System, and the N.C. Highway Commission used the funds to build the rest of the highway, which opened as I-85 in 1958. The bridge, finished a year earlier, was "grandfathered" despite not meeting standards. Also designated as I-85 was the bypass around Charlotte.[8]

Another section of I-85 opened to traffic on September 9, 1958 when an 11.3-mile (18.2 km) stretch in Mecklenburg County was opened.

The year 1960 saw several sections of the highway open to traffic:[7]

  • An 18.3-mile (29.5 km) section of Interstate 85 between Henderson and the Virginia border as well as a 46-mile (74 km) section between Greensboro and western Durham opened to traffic.
  • A 15.4-mile portion of U.S. 29/U.S. 70 between Salisbury and Greensboro was incorporated into I-85 when further grade separations and access control was completed
  • A 14-mile (23 km) segment of I-85 known as the "Charlotte Bypass" in Charlotte.
  • A 13.8-mile (22.2 km) segment between Greensboro and Whisett.

By 1965, I-85 from the South Carolina border to Charlotte was complete, while it took until 1970 for the section between Charlotte and Durham to be completed. However, the "Temporary 85" designation would remain on the segment between Lexington and Greensboro until 1984 because there were too many access roads. That year, a new six-lane section opened, resulting in the "Temporary 85" designation to be dropped.[9]

Since its completion, many widening projects have been undertaken on I-85, particularly along the stretch of highway between Gastonia and Durham. By 1988, widening I-85 to six lanes from Greensboro to Burlington was being considered.[10] The plan was later changed to eight lanes.[11] The $175 million project began in 1989. With the opening of a 2.3-mile (3.7 km) section in Alamance County on November 23, 1994, 21 miles (34 km) of I-85/I-40 were eight lanes. An additional 14 miles (23 km) were to be ready by 1996, giving the interstate eight lanes all the way to where I-40 turned southward at Hillsborough.[12]

In addition, Interstate 85 was relocated in 2004, south of Greensboro, forming part of the Greensboro Urban Loop, allowing through traffic to bypass that city's downtown area. Between 2004 and 2008, I-85 was widened to eight lanes around Salisbury.[8]

The I-85 Corridor Improvement Project, located in Rowan County and Davidson County, is a two phase project to replace the narrow bridge over the Yadkin River and widen the freeway from 4-lanes to 8-lanes.[13] All traffic from the old bridge moved to a new $201 million bridge in August 2012, and work is still under way on other parts of the project.[8]


The I-85 Corridor Improvement Project is below budget and expected to have both phases completed in the Spring, 2013.[14]

Another construction project that is part of the I-485 Charlotte Outer Loop, located in Mecklenburg County, will reconstruct the I-485 interchange (exit 48) to a fully directional interchange and widen the freeway from 6-lanes to 8-lanes from I-485 to Bruton Smith Boulevard/Concord Mills Boulevard. Currently, the entire project is expected to be completed in 2015 and at budget.[15]

Auxiliary routes in North Carolina

Interstate City Type Notes
Interstate 85 Business Lexington, High Point, and Greensboro Business loop Expressway grade from Lexington-High Point, freeway grade in Greensboro
Interstate 285 Winston-Salem Spur Future, construction slated to begin in 2013
Interstate 485 Charlotte Beltway Mostly completed beltway
Interstate 785 Greensboro and Danville Spur Currently a 2.21-mile (3.56 km) stub in eastern Guilford County; to be extended

Exit list

See also


External links

  • I-85 Corridor Improvement Project

Interstate 85
Previous state:
South Carolina
North Carolina Next state:
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