Originally, Interstate 185 was commissioned as a short spur extending from northbound Interstate 85 to Mills Avenue (U.S. 29) at Dunean, just outside the Greenville city limits. The route was eventually extended south and east along the privately-operated Southern Connector through south Greenville County and Mauldin.
The Southern Connector includes two main line toll plazas and four interchanges. The plazas accommodate four overall lanes in each direction direction, including one Palmetto Pass lane, one exact change lane and two cash lanes. The interchanges are as follows:1
Exit 1 – Interstate 385
Exit 4 – Fork Shoals Road
Exit 7 AB – U.S. 25 Augusta Rd
Exit 10 – South Carolina 20 Piedmont Hwy
Exit 12 – South Carolina 153
Exit 14 – Interstate 85
Exit 15 – northbound only – U.S. 25 White Horse Road
Exit 16 – South Carolina 20 TO U.S. 25 Piedmont
Interstate 185 encircles southern areas of the Greenville area between Mauldin and Lakeside along the tolled Southern Connector. The original freeway spur provides access to Downtown Greenville from the southwest.
Church Street was extended southward to Interstate 185 during the 1950s when the freeway spur was constructed.2 Per the 1957 USGS Topo map of Greenville, the freeway was constructed initially as a new alignment of U.S. 29, with U.S. 29 Bypass routed along what would later become Interstate 85. The wye interchange at the south end of I-85 was expanded by February 1999 to include full access between the two freeways.
A beltway for the Greenville area was envisioned by Greenville County planners in 1967.3,6 Designated the Southern Connector, the route gained traction when a state circuit judge ruled against local opposition on the project in February 1997.3 The state Supreme Court then upheld that ruling in early August 1997, allowing property acquisition of 152 parcels of land, including 33 homes and six businesses.4 Coinciding with the Southern Connector work was the issuance of $17.5-million in general obligation state highway bonds for the extension of South Carolina 153 from I-85 east to the new toll road. This occurred in February 1998.5
Construction on the Southern Connector finally broke ground during a ceremony held on February 27, 1998. Estimated to cost $240 million at that time, the 16-mile road was touted to open 4,000 acres for business development with an opening date of November 2001.6 Construction on the toll road progressed ahead of schedule with 63% of the project complete by March 2000. This resulted in a nine month forward shift of the completion date.7
The AASHTO Route Numbering subcommittee approved the extension of Interstate 185 from Interstate 85 southeast to Interstate 385 at Mauldin on December 9, 2000. The route was initially designated a future route until the Federal Highway Administration gave approval.
Completion of the route took place on February 27, 2001, with the entire Southern Connector opened to traffic. Tolls commenced operations on March 12, 2001 with $1.50 charged for passenger vehicles traveling the entire length of the route. While owned by the state, the toll road was privately financed through the bond market and was operated by the Connector 2000 Association, Inc.8 Exits numbers along the original I-185 spur to Greenville were renumbered from 1 and 2 to 15 and 16 respectively.
Toll revenue was lower than expected during the first five years of operation, leading to funding shortages for debt repayment. Rates along the Southern Connector initially increased by 50 cents in 2005 to make the debt payments without dipping into reserve funds.9 A subsequent increase took place in 2009 ($2.50 cash rate), but eventually the nonprofit group, the Connector 2000 Association, Inc. filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy citing traffic counts far below those forecast.10
A third rate hike went into effect on January 3, 2012, when tolls were increased to $3.00 for travel along the entire length of the Southern Connector. An additional toll increase was set at that time for 2016.11
A freeway ends regulatory sign precedes the West Faris Road underpass along Interstate 185 & U.S. 29 northbound. The final northbound on-ramp adds traffic from adjacent South Carolina 20 (Grove Road). Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
Milepost 16 appears as Interstate 185 transitions into a four-lane urban boulevard (Mills Avenue) at Henrydale Avenue. U.S. 29 proceeds north along Mills Avenue and Church Street 2.6 miles to North Street in Downtown Greenville. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
Perspective from Interstate 185 & U.S. 29 south
Mills Avenue (U.S. 29) transitions into Interstate 185 adjacent to a shopping center south of Henrydale Avenue. The first reassurance marker for I-185 appears as the freeway leads southwest to Exit 16 (S.C. 20) and Exit 15 (U.S. 25). Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/14/16).
South End – Greenville, South Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 185 south
Departing the second main line toll plaza, Interstate 185 progresses eastward toward Exit 1B with Interstate 385. This stretch remains somewhat rural though some suburban development lies nearby/ Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
Forthcoming Interstate 385 replaced U.S. 276 along the freeway leading southeast from Mauldin to Simpsonville, Fountain Inn and Clinton. The freeway ends to the north at Downtown Greenville. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
Construction of the interchange between Interstates 185, 385 and U.S. 276 resulted in the relocation of Neely Ferry Road. The road circumvents the exchange to the west, while providing local connections from U.S. 276 and to East Standing Springs Road. Exit 1B quickly follows Exit 1A for I-385 south toward Columbia. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
Exit 1B departs from below the Neely Ferry Road overpass for I-385 south to Simpsonville. The Southern Connector extends east another 1.8 miles to ramps with S.C. 417 and I-385 north. Photo taken by Carter Buchanan (01/13/16).
An end sign for I-185 follows the loop ramp for S.C. 417 into Mauldin. Interstate 385 runs another six miles to I-85 and 12 miles north to Downtown Greenville. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
Historic Perspective from Interstate 385 south
This set of signs posted at Exit 1A for Neely Ferry Road was replaced after 2012. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
The pull through panel for the Interstate 185 mainline leading to I-385 north was replaced by 2008 to include Spartanburg. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
Perspective from Interstate 385 north
Interstate 385 north leaves the city of Simpsonville and approaches Mauldin and the split with U.S. 276 (Exit 30). U.S. 276 begins a two-state route to Cove Creek, North Carolina from I-385 while providing part of the movement to the Southern Connector (I-185) leading west. Photo taken 12/31/13.
An auxiliary lane accompanies I-385 north to the U.S. 276 expressway spur into Mauldin. I-185 begins just to the east to run along side Interstate 385 to U.S. 276. Photo taken 12/31/13.
Two lanes branch away from Interstate 385 north for U.S. 276 north to Main Street in Mauldin and Interstate 185 north along the Southern Connector toward Anderson. Photo taken 12/31/13.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 385 south
Interstate 385 encircles the east side of Mauldin on the one mile approach to Interstate 185 (Exit 31). Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
Turning to the southwest, I-385 splits with I-185 in one half mile at a wye interchange (Exit 31). Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
I-185 initially parallels I-385 west from Exit 31 to U.S. 276. The adjacent route provides access to S.C. 417 (Main Street). Interstate 385 otherwise continues southward toward Columbia via Interstate 26 in 90 miles. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (04/06/03).
Historic Southern Terminus – southwest of Greenville, South Carolina
Perspective from Interstate 85 south
The wye interchange between Interstates 85 and 185 was expanded to include full access between the two freeways. Provisions were built into the interchange for the eventual Southern Connector. Photo taken 12/08/99.
Source: December 31, 2017 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
Greenville Inset – 1966
The Greenville freeway spur opened initially as the new alignment of U.S. 29, with the old route redesignated as South Carolina 20. U.S. 29 historically also combined with U.S. 25 along Augusta Road to Main Street.