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State Route 85, commonly known in the San Francisco Bay Areamarker of Californiamarker, United Statesmarker as Highway 85, is a freeway which connects Mountain Viewmarker and southern San Josemarker. The entire freeway is named the West Valley Freeway. The majority of the route is also named the Norman Y. Mineta Highway, with the exception of the portion of Highway 85 passing through Saratoga which is named the CHP Officer Scott M. Greenly Memorial Freeway, named for a CHP officer killed in the line of duty on that stretch of freeway. Highway 85 provides an alternative to U.S. Route 101, bypassing downtown San Jose and instead passing through Cupertinomarker, Saratogamarker, Campbellmarker, Los Gatosmarker, and San Jose's Cambrian Parkmarker, Almaden Valleymarker, Blossom Valley and Santa Teresa neighborhoods. The highway intersects with Interstate 280, Highway 17, and Highway 87. The total length of Highway 85 is 23.7 miles (38.1 km); the length of Highway 101 that it bypasses is 21.3 miles (34.3 km). The portion north of I-280 is also called the Stevens Creek Freeway.

The northern part of the freeway, 5.7 miles (9.2 km) from Stevens Creek Boulevard (near Interstate 280) north to Highway 101 through Mountain View, was built in the 1960s. The southern part, 18.5 miles (29.8 km) from 280 in Cupertino to 101 in south San Jose, remained unbuilt until the late 1980s and finally opened in 1994. Before the southern freeway portion was built from Stevens Creek Boulevard to the current southern terminus, the route's southern terminus was at State Route 9 in Saratoga. The 85 route numbering ran north along Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road in Saratoga and De Anza Boulevard in San Jose/Cupertino to Interstate 280. The route number was then concurrent with Interstate 280 north to that highway's junction with the freeway portion of Route 85.

This route is part of the California Freeway and Expressway System.


Preserving the right-of-way

Land was set aside for the entire freeway in the 1950s, with maps first showing the proposed freeway in 1957. At the time, Santa Clara Countymarker still consisted largely of orchards, and so the right-of-way touched very few existing structures. During Governor Jerry Brown's tenure in the 1970s, the building of highways was de-emphasized in favor of mass transit, and some building was allowed on the right-of-way with the expectation that the freeway would never be built. Local government officials, however, fought to preserve the right-of-way and succeeded in doing so. As a result, when congestion on other freeways—Interstate 280, US 101, and Highway 17—intersecting this path became overwhelming, it was still possible for this freeway to be built with little demolition required.

In the interim, parts of the unused open space were leased for use without permanent structures, including a large tree nursery, a driving range, and among other things, overflow parking for De Anza Collegemarker.

Funding and planning

The town of Los Gatos and city of Saratoga added to the complexity and cost of the planning and implementation; to avoid excessive noise, they insisted that the freeway be built below grade (at an eventual additional cost of US$60 million), that it have only three lanes in each direction: the leftmost lane being a HOV lane, and two lanes carrying standard traffic; furthermore, no trucks over 4.5 tons (4.0 metric tons) be allowed on the road. In addition, to prevent what they felt would be excessive additional traffic on their surface streets, they lobbied heavily to prevent having any freeway entrances or exits in their cities. Full interchanges were originally planned at Winchester Boulevard, Quito Road, Saratoga Avenue, and Prospect Road; the final compromise placed only a half interchange at Winchester and completely did away with the Quito and Prospect interchanges. As a result, backups at entrances to the freeway near these cities are tremendous during morning rush hour, and Los Gatos and Campbell residents who want to take 85 southward must go two or three miles (3 to 5 km) out of their way to find a ramp onto the freeway.

The project was the first in the state for which county residents voted to tax themselves to build a state highway. Because state funds were scarce and congestion on other freeways and on surrounding surface streets was tremendous, a slight majority of voters (56%) voted for the tax in 1984. At the time, there was considerable controversy over whether funds would be better spent on mass transit and whether a freeway through so many residential areas would destroy the quality of life. The total US$785 million cost of the freeway was mostly funded by the special tax on county residents, along with matching state and federal funds. The project proved successful enough that, since then, many other locales have used local taxes to build state projects. It was also so effective as a solution to traffic problems that, several years after it was built, a poll by the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group revealed that nearly 80% of voters claimed that they had voted for the tax.

Construction of the freeway

The northern section, from I-280 to U.S. 101 at Mountain View, was completed between 1965 and 1967 as four lanes (two in each direction). The northern section's carpool lanes were completed in 1990 (south half) and 1998 (north half). In the southern section, partial fill for the interchanges at Blossom Hill Road and Highway 87 was placed in 1986. Construction of the first structures (at the Highway 85/87 and Highway 85/Stevens Creek interchanges) began in approximately 1987-1988. Highway 85 opened between Santa Teresa Boulevard (at the future 85/87 interchange) and Cottle Road in 1991, along with the light rail line in the median of Highway 85. The extensions to Almaden Expressway and Great Oaks Boulevard were completed in 1992. With the completion of the southern leg (from I-280 to 85) of Highway 87 in 1993, the 85/87 interchange opened to traffic that year (with only two connector ramps, from 85 north to 87 north and 87 south to 85 south, due to funding limitations). The remaining segments, from Highway 101 (in South San Jose) to Great Oaks and from Almaden Expressway to I-280, opened in 1994. The projects completed in the 1990s had a total cost of about $785 million.

The remaining ramps at the Highway 85/87 interchange (from 85 south to 87 north and 87 south to 85 north) were completed in 2003. At the southern Highway 85/101 interchange in South San Jose, carpool-to-carpool ramps and the south 101 to north 85 connector ramp were opened in 2004. The $125 million reconstruction of the northern Highway 85/101 interchange in Mountain View, with the original ramps (built circa 1965) replaced and new carpool-to-carpool and other ramps added, was completed in 2006. The projects completed in the 2000s had a total cost of about $237 million. There is still one missing connector in the Highway 85 system left to the future—the flyover ramp from 85 south to 101 north at the southern interchange, with no funding identified yet and which is not specifically listed in the Transportation 2030 plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

Significant future Highway 85 projects listed in MTC's Transportation 2030 plan, as of 2006 (in 2004 dollars), include:(1) Route 85 northbound and southbound auxiliary lanes between Homestead Avenue and Fremont Avenue, at $19 million;(2) Route 85 corridor improvements at $177 million;(3) Route 85 northbound to Route 237 eastbound connector ramp improvements, at $22 million;and (4) Route 237 westbound to Route 85 southbound connector ramp improvements, at $18 million.

The results

In October 1994, the completed freeway between Almaden Expressway and I-280 opened with a single day on which only pedestrians and bicyclists were allowed to travel its length. The evening before opening day several cities along the route including Saratoga and Campbell held street fair events on the freeway featuring fine food, wine, and games. Limo service was offered linking the different city's fairs giving locals their first glimpse of the new freeway. The next morning 85 was officially opened to traffic. The city of Campbell had planted a large display of pansies spelling out the city's name on the sloped side of the freeway bed; this caused a traffic jam as motorists slowed to read the message. The flowers were removed after the first day.

The overall commute for people from south San Jose through Campbell into Mountain View and other business areas of Silicon Valleymarker improved by roughly half an hour over previous longer routes on already crowded freeways or over miles of surface streets. Major surface streets that had once been unnavigable during many hours of the day suddenly became—and remained—usable. For example, eastern Blossom Hill Road had a typical load of 23,000 cars a day before 85 opened; as of 2004, a typical day's load was a mere 11,000 cars. (Conversely, Saratoga Avenue, which previously had been a fairly quiet road, now sees about 18,000 cars a day because it is the only interchange in or near the city of Saratoga.)

As with any freeway, ambient noise in surrounding neighborhoods increased, from a steadily annoying whisper of sound day and night to a dull roar that muted backyard conversations. Property values, however, did not diminish; it is possible that the improved commute and access to the vast California freeway network improved the desirability of these neighborhoods. The noise level however has continued to be an issue with some residents particularly in Saratoga. Caltrans has floated several options from repaving with asphalt, to grinding down the current concrete surface of the highway. An experimental length of the freeway from Cox Avenue to De Anza Boulevard was ground down in 2003. This smoothed out much of the top layer of the freeway removing most of the rain grooves that had been cut in the concrete when the highway was first built. The result did lower the ambient sound levels along that stretch of the freeway, and subsequently the entire concrete surfaced section of the freeway from Almaden Expressway to Stevens Creek Boulevard was microgrooved in a follow up project in 2005.

Other Unique features and events

Besides the funding breakthrough, SR 85 set new standards in two additional areas: metering lights and median safety barriers.

Route 85 was the first freeway in Californiamarker to open with metering lights at every onramp, including interchanges with Routes 17 and 101. When the freeway opened on October 19, 1994, the lights caused tremendous backups at the onramps during commute hours, raising an outcry from commuters furious at having to wait as much as 20 to 30 minutes in the worst cases before entering the freeway. The county required Caltrans to turn off the metering lights, which they did on November 17, 1994. This almost immediately slowed the commute over the full 24 mile (39 km) stretch by 33 minutes; Caltrans eventually turned the lights back on in 1995, which sped up the overall commute considerably.

In January 2009, several metering lights in the southern portion of SR 85 were reactivated. These included the Route 87-to-Route 85 interchange, the Almaden Expressway on-ramps, and the Blossom Hill Road on-ramps.

The freeway was constructed with a 46-to-50-foot (14-15 m) wide center median with the intention that a light rail extension could be built. Initially, no barrier of any kind was installed in the median because, at the time, Caltrans regulations stated that any median wider than 45 feet (14 m) did not require a median barrier unless there was a history of head-on collisions. However, within the first year, one person died, and in a one-year period from 1996 to 1997 six more were killed in head-on collisions by cars crossing the median at high speeds. Public outcry convinced Caltrans to install the standard post-and-metal-beam barrier the entire length of the freeway and also to change their regulations so that median barriers are now required on all high-volume freeways with medians of less than 75 feet (23 m). Accidents and injuries dropped by roughly one third in the first year after the barrier was installed.

SR 85 has the distinction of being one of only a handful of California freeways that do not allow tractor semis over 4.5 tons (4.0 metric tons) to utilize it. This restriction is in effect from U.S. Route 101 in the south to Stevens Creek Boulevard in the north. This has been a prime factor in reducing the level of noise that the freeway would otherwise produce as most large trucks are unable to use the freeway.

In 1998, California Highway Patrol officer Scott Greenly was struck by a car and killed while issuing a ticket on the shoulder of Route 85; thereafter the portion between Quito Road and Prospect Road in the City of Saratoga was named the CHP Officer Scott M. Greenly Memorial Freeway. On September 15, 2008, the remainder of the freeway, north of Prospect Road as well as south of Quito Road, was named in honor of former San Jose mayor, congressman, and United States Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.

Exit list

Note: Except where prefixed with a letter, postmiles were measured in 1964, based on the alignment as it existed at that time, and do not necessarily reflect current mileage.
The entire route is in Santa Clara Countymarker.
Location Postmile

# Destinations Notes
San Josemarker 0.00 1A Southbound exit and northbound entrance
0.18 1B Bernal Road to US 101 north – San Franciscomarker Southbound exit and northbound entrance
0.79 1C Great Oaks Boulevard Southbound exit and northbound entrance
1.97 2 Cottle Road
3.93 4 Blossom Hill Road (CR G10)
5.22 5A Signed as exit 5B southbound
5.22 5B Santa Teresa Boulevard Signed as exit 5A southbound
6.14 6 Almaden Expressway (CR G8)
8.11 8 Camden Avenue
9.28 9 Union Avenue
Los Gatosmarker R10.23 10 Bascom Avenue, Los Gatos Boulevard
R10.50 11A Signed as exit 11 northbound
R11.00 11B Winchester Boulevard Southbound exit and northbound entrance
Saratogamarker R13.68 14 Saratoga Avenue
San Josemarker R15.87 16 De Anza Boulevard Former SR 85
Cupertinomarker R17.70 18 Stevens Creek Boulevard Southbound trucks over 9,000 lbs. must exit
R18.45 19A Signed as exit 19 northbound
R18.86 19B Homestead Road Southbound exit and northbound entrance
Sunnyvalemarker R19.86 20 Fremont Avenue – Los Altosmarker
Mountain Viewmarker R21.75 22 Signed as exits 22A (south) and 22B (north)
R22.16 22C Northbound exit and southbound entrance
R22.63 23 Evelyn Avenue Northbound exit and southbound entrance
R22.63 23 Central Expressway (CR G6) Southbound exit and northbound entrance
R23.44 24A Moffett Boulevard Northbound exit and southbound entrance
R23.87 24B Northbound exit and southbound entrance
R23.87 24C Shoreline Boulevard Northbound exit and southbound entrance

Route description

Although SR 85 mainly passes through suburban Bay Areamarker cities, it does have several points of interest. The northern terminus is located near Moffett Fieldmarker, with its huge Hangar 1. Microsoft's Silicon Valley Campus is located at the northern end of the freeway. Near the interchange with Interstate 280, SR 85 runs close to the headquarters of Apple Computermarker and next to De Anza Collegemarker, a community college in the area.


  1. CA Codes (shc:250-257)
  2. California Department of Transportation, State Truck Route List (XLS file), accessed February 2008
  3. California Department of Transportation, Log of Bridges on State Highways, July 2007
  4. California Department of Transportation, All Traffic Volumes on CSHS, 2005 and 2006
  5. California Department of Transportation, California Numbered Exit Uniform System, SR-85 Northbound and SR-85 Southbound, accessed February 2008

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