I-985 is the second highest numbered Interstate in the system, with only I-990 outside Buffalo, New York numbered higher. 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 SR 365 and unsigned SR 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 expanded the wye interchange with I-985 to include an Express Lane overpass. Provisions were 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 extended through Summer 2018.4
I-985 was approved as an Interstate Highway by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (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 highway was built instead of Interstate 85, which shifted southward in 1959 from a proposed route by Gainesville, Cornelia and Toccoa to an alignment east from Suwanee to Commerce and Lavonia. Efforts by Governor Ernest Vandiver resulted in the corridor shift for I-85, which ran through Franklin County, his home area.3
According to Steve Williams, until 1985 the freeway was simply known as State Route 365, despite the merge of U.S. 23 from the first exit (SR 20 – former Exit 1). Once the limited access portion ends in Gainesville, the highway is signed as U.S. 23/SR 365 to Cornelia. SR 365 eventually splits north of Cornelia, joining SR 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 along SR 365 east from I-985 at Gainesville to Toccoa.3