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 S.C. 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 I-85 southeast to I-385 at Mauldin on December 9, 2000. I-185 was initially designated as 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