Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
California State Route 85
|Towns/Cities (Neighborhoods):|| Mountain View, CA|
Los Gatos, CA
San Jose, CA
|Type:|| State Highway|
|Termini:|| N: US 101|
S: US 101
Highway 85, officially California State Route 85 and West Valley Freeway, provides an alternative route from Highway 101 in Mountain View, California to US 101 in South San Jose, California. The highway bypasses downtown San Jose, instead passing through Cupertino, Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos, and the Almaden Valley. The highway intersects with Interstate 280, California State Route 17, and California State Route 87 (Guadalupe Parkway). The total length of Highway 85 is 23.7 miles; the length of Highway 101 that it bypasses is 21.3 miles. The portion between I-280 and US 101 is also called the Stevens Creek Freeway.
The northern part of the freeway, 5.7 miles from Interstate 280 north to Highway 101 through Mountain View, was built in the 1960s. The southern part, 18.5 miles from 280 in Cupertino to 101 in south San Jose, remained unbuilt until the 1990s and finally opened in 1994.
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 County 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 deemphasized 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, U.S. Highway 101, and California State Highway 17—intersecting this path became overwhelming, it was still possible for this freeway to be built with little demolition required.
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 $60 million), that it have only three lanes in each direction, one for carpools only, and that no trucks over 4.5 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 out of their way to find a way 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, in 1985 a slight majority of voters (56%) voted for the tax. At the time, there was considerably 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 $785 million cost of the freeway was funded by the special tax on county residents. The project proved successful enough that, since then, many other locales have used local taxes to build state projects. It was also so successful 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.
The freeway opened with a single day on which only pedestrians and bicyclists were allowed to travel its length, and then opened fully 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 Valley 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 one 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 desireability of these neighborhoods.
Other Unique Features and Events
Besides the funding breakthrough, Highway 85 set new standards in two additional areas, metering lights and median safety barriers.
85 was the first new freeway in California to open with metering lights at every onramp, including interchanges with Routes 17 and 101. When the freeway opened on October 19, 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. This almost immediately slowed the commute over the full 24-mile stretch by 33 minutes; Caltrans eventually turned the lights back on in 1995, which sped up the overall commute considerably.
85 was constructed with a 46-to-50-foot-wide center median with the intention that, someday, 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 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 an additional six 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. Accidents and injuries dropped by roughly one third in the first year after the barrier was installed.
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".
Route 85 has exits at major arterials in each city it passes through. The exits and Cal-NExUS exit numbers are listed below.
|Exit number||Northbound interchange||Southbound interchange|
|1B||Bernal Road / US-101 North|
|1C||Great Oaks Blvd.|
|4||Blossom Hill Road|
|5A||Santa Teresa Blvd|
|10||Bascom Avenue/Los Gatos Blvd|
|16||De Anza Blvd / Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road|
|18||Stevens Creek Blvd|
|20||Fremont Avenue / Los Altos|
|22A||CA-82 South / Sunnyvale / El Camino Real|
|22B||CA-82 North / Mountain View / El Camino Real|
|22C||CA-237 / US-101 South|
|23||Evelyn Avenue||Central Expressway|
|24B||US 101 North|
Although CA-85 mainly passes through suburban Bay Area cities, it does have several points of interest. At the interchange with Interstate 280, CA-85 runs next to the headquarters of Apple Computer. It also passes De Anza College, a community college in the area. Microsoft is also building a office complex at the northern terminus of CA-85.
A somewhat infamous point of interest, however, is the interchange at 85's northern terminus, the U.S. Highway 101 North and CA-85 interchange. Notorious for congestion, the interchange merges the three lanes of CA-85 Northbound traffic into one lane, then merges it onto U.S. Highway 101 North. Currently the interchange is under construction, causing further congestion during rush hour.
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