Interstate 985 both acts as a commuter freeway joining the Atlanta metropolitan area with Lake Lanier and the city of Gainesville and a part of a long distance route for U.S. 23 to the north Georgia mountains. Although still rural in appearance, suburban growth adds traffic to the route with some sections more urbanized in design. 70 mile per hour speed limits are posted throughout the 24-mile route.
All of Interstate 985 doubles as both Georgia 365 and unsigned Georgia 419. U.S. 23 accompanies the route from Exit 4 northeast to the Interstate end at U.S. 129 on the east side of Gainesville. U.S. 23 extends northeast from there as an expressway toward Clarkesville and Toccoa.
Construction to extend the I-85 Express Lanes northeast from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road involves expansion of the wye interchange with I-985 to include a new Express Lane overpass. Provisions will also be made to the southbound overpass for I-85 to accommodate future expansion of I-985. The $178-million project started on August 3, 2016. Work runs through summer 2018.4
A new diamond interchange will be constructed on Interstate 985 with H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway between Exits 12 and 16. The project will extend H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway south from parallel Thurman Tanner Parkway across I-985 & U.S. 23 to the intersection of Georgia 13 and Martin Road. No timetable has been set as of fall 2015.
I-985 was approved as an Interstate Highway by AASHTO on December 7, 1984. The freeway was previously constructed between August 1962 and December 1969 as a new alignment for U.S. 23.1 The route was built instead of Interstate 85, which shifted southward in 1959 from a route by Gainesville, Cornelia and Toccoa to the current alignment east from Suwanee to Commerce and Lavonia. Efforts by Governor Ernest Vandiver resulted in the corridor shift of I-85, which ran through Frankl County, his home area.3
According to Steve Williams, until 1985 the freeway was simply known as Georgia 365, despite the merge of U.S. 23 from the first exit (Georgia 20 – former Exit 1). Once the limited access portion ends in Gainesville, the highway is signed as U.S. 23 & Georgia 365 to Cornelia. GA 365 eventually splits north of Cornelia, joining GA 17 and U.S. 123 as it goes through Toccoa en route to the South Carolina line. Locals started referring to the limited access portion as "985" once it was signed accordingly.
Work completed in 1991 extended the four-lane corridor of Georgia 365 east from the I-985 end at Gainesville to Toccoa.3
$74.6-million in construction at Oakwood included the construction of a new interchange (Exit 17) with Georgia 13 (Atlanta Highway) and the addition of collector distributor roadways between it and adjacent Exit 16 with Georgia 53 (Mundy Mill Road). The work was completed between June 8, 2006 and July 31, 2009.2
North End – just northeast of Gainesville, Georgia
The final Interstate 985 north reassurance shield stands beside the Athens Street overpass beyond Exit 22 with U.S. 129 & Georgia 11. Photo taken 06/21/05.
Northbound Interstate 985, U.S. 23-129 & Georgia 365 wrap around the northeast side of Gainesville to Exit 24 with Georgia 369 west and Jesse Jewell Parkway east. Photo taken 07/02/14.
One half mile ahead of the diamond interchange (Exit 24) with U.S. 129 north and Georgia 369 west. U.S. 129 originally followed a combination of Green Street, Riverside Drive, Morningside Drive and Park Hill Drive before shifting onto a bypass of Gainesville to the east via I-985 and Limestone Parkway. Photo taken 07/02/14.
A pair of end signs for Interstate 985 were installed along Lanier Parkway northbound at the Old Cornelia Highway overpass in 2014. Photo taken 07/02/14.
U.S. 129 splits with I-985 & U.S. 23 north to combine with Georgia 369 west to nearby Limestone Parkway. Limestone Parkway takes the highway north as a commercial arterial to northern reaches of Lake Lanier while en route to the White County seat of Cleveland. GA 369 combines with U.S. 129 Business south to Downtown Gainesville. Photo taken 07/02/14.
Spanning Jesse Jewell Parkway, Interstate 985 concludes formally with this set of end signs. U.S. 23 & Georgia 365 transition into an expressway ahead of the intersection with Howard Road. Photo taken 07/02/14.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 985 north
Replaced guide signs incorrectly identified Exit 24 with U.S. 129 Business instead of the U.S. 129 mainline. A supplemental shield indicated U.S. 129 ahead of the exit gore point instead. Photo taken 07/21/05.
Georgia 369 ends at the interchange with Interstate 985 opposite Jesse Jewell Parkway east to Old Cornelia Highway. The forthcoming exit used to serve as the north end of Georgia 13, which made a fish hook route east and then west onto Old Cornelia Highway. GA 369 replaced the northernmost portion of the route through Gainesville. Photo taken 07/21/05.
Area development, including New Holland Shopping Center, adds traffic to the previous rural diamond interchange (Exit 24) between Interstate 985, U.S. 23, U.S. 129 and Georgia 369. Photo taken 07/21/05.
U.S. 23 & Georgia 365 upgrade to a freeway south of the at-grade intersection with Howard Road. Exit 24 with U.S. 129 north & Georgia 369 (Jesse Jewell Parkway) west follows in one mile. Photo taken 10/26/15.
U.S. 129 follows Limestone Parkway south along the east side of Gainesville to briefly combine with the east end of Georgia 369 (Jesse Jewell Parkway) to merge with I-985 & U.S. 23 south at Exit 24. Photo taken 10/26/15.
Jesse Jewell Parkway leads west as both U.S. 129 Business south & Georgia 369 to Downtown Gainesville. The state route travels 36 miles west across Lake Sidney Lanier to Coal Mountain and GA 20 in Cherokee County. Connections with U.S. 19 & GA 400 lead motorists south to the Forsyth County seat of Cumming. Photo taken 10/26/15.
The first reassurance marker for Interstate 985 south omits U.S. 23 & 129 as the freeway runs southwest along eastern reaches of Gainesville. U.S. 129 splits at the ensuing exit. Photo taken 10/26/15.
Historic Perspective from U.S. 23 & Georgia 365 south
Older guide signs for Exit 24 from U.S. 23 & Georgia 365 south also referenced U.S. 129 Business instead of the U.S. 129 mainline previously. U.S. 129 Business forms an L-shaped route west along Jesse Jewell Parkway to Downtown and Athens Highway southeast from there to Exit 22. Photo taken 07/21/05.
As U.S. 23 combined with Interstate 985 & U.S. 129 south, speed limits increased to 70 miles per hour. Photo taken 07/21/05.
South End – near Suwanee, Georgia
U.S. 23 south separates from Interstate 985 at Exit 4 with Georgia 20 (Buford Drive). The remainder of I-985 bee lines to Interstate 85 south ahead of Suwanee. Photo taken 10/26/15.
Two lanes of Interstate 985 span Ivy Creek before merging onto the right-hand side of Interstate 85 south ahead of Exit 111 with Georgia 317 (Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road). There is no end shield posted for I-985. Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (02/23/03).
Historic Perspective from Interstate 985 south
All guide signs for Interstate 985 were replaced by 2013. This view looks at the previous guide signs using the former GDOT condensed Highway Gothic font standard at the diamond interchange (Exit 4) with GA 20 (Buford Drive). Photo taken by Chris Patriarca (02/23/03).
Five lanes of Interstate 85 progress northward toward Suwanee and the remaining far northeastern suburbs of Atlanta metro. Exit 113 for Interstate 985 departs in two miles. Photo taken 10/22/15.
Continuing beyond Georgia 317, the left-hand lane departs in one mile for Interstate 985 north (Exit 113). I-985 is the second highest numbered Interstate in the system, with only I-990 outside Buffalo, New York numbered higher. Photo taken 07/02/14.
Interstate 85 branches eastward from the wye interchange (Exit 113) with I-985 toward Braselton and Jefferson in adjacent Jackson County. I-985 stays to the north through the Buford area. Both freeways remain busy commuter routes through north Gwinnett County. Photo taken 07/02/14.
Interstate 985 leads motorists north toward Buford Dam and Lake Lanier Islands as part of the 22-mile drive to the Hall County seat of Gainesville. I-85 north reaches the South Carolina state line in 66 miles. Photo taken 07/02/14.
Historic Perspective from Interstate 85 north
These signs for both Interstate 985 north and Georgia 317 north were replaced when I-85 was expanded by a fifth northbound lane to Exit 111. Photo taken 05/28/05.
The 1999 exit renumbering project throughout the state replaced signs for Interstate 985, including this diagrammatic overhead in button copy. Note the old sequential exit number of 45. Vidcap taken 06/05/96.
Original button copy signs posted at the split of Interstates 85 and 985 north. I-85 quickly reduced to a four-lane freeway to the east at this time. Vidcap taken 06/05/96.
The first shield for Interstate 985 appears ahead of the southbound I-85 overpass. The subsequent interchange (Exit 4) sees U.S. 23 north merge onto I-985 for the trek to Gainesville. Photo taken 07/02/14.
"Happy Birthday to the open road." Gwinnett Daily Post (Lawrenceville, GA), June 25, 2006.
"Interstate 985 exit overhaul awarded at $75 million." Forsyth County News (Cumming, GA), June 8, 2006.
"Interstate 85 through Hall? It very nearly was Gov. Ernest Vandiver redirected highway plans in 1950s." The Times (Gainesville, GA), April 13, 2005.
"Georgia Department of Transportation Breaks Ground on I-85 Express Lanes Extension Project." Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), press release. August 3, 2016.
Source: December 31, 2018 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
Several large-scale subdivisions surround the area of the I-85/985 split to the east and west while the industrial section of Suwanee borders the wye interchange to the south. The Mall of Georgia lies between both freeways along Georgia 20 (Buford Drive).
The I-985 freeway initially opened north to Georgia 20 (Buford Drive). The remainder opened in 1969 as Georgia 365.
The north end of the Georgia 365 freeway tied into Old Cornelia Highway, which was then both U.S. 23 and Georgia 13. Old Corelia Highway east from Gainesville today is unnumbered to Georgia 52, which remains along the route north toward Lula.