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Location: Southern Front Range > Metro Denver >
Northern Front Range
Length*: 126.35mi signed; 309mi implied
S End: New Mexico border at Raton Pass on unmarked overlap with I-25 (link to Steve Riner's site)
N End: Wyoming border north of Nunn (link to Andy Field's site)
Nationally: S End: El Paso, Texas; N End: Canadian border near Fontana, North Dakota (1479mi)
Counties: El Paso, Douglas, Arapahoe, Denver, Adams,
Places: Fountain, Security-Widefield, Castle Rock, Sedalia, Littleton, Englewood, Denver, Commerce City, Brighton, Fort Lupton, Platteville, Gilcrest, La Salle, Evans, Garden City, Greeley, Eaton, Ault, Pierce, Nunn
Freeway: While concurrent with I-76 from Exits 9 to 12.
Annual Average Daily Traffic (2008):
US 85 is good at disappearing acts. Even though it starts in El Paso, it doesn't get any respect until it gets north all the way to Castle Rock. In New Mexico, it's concurrent with I-10 and I-25 most of the time, so there's no recognition there. In Colorado, US 85 has an unmarked multiplex with I-25 in the southern part of the state, and doesn't appear until Exit 128 at Fountain. According to maps, it egresses from I-25 for a short jaunt through Walsenburg (with BL I-25, Exits 49 to 52), but since it isn't marked, it doesn't matter.
From Exit 128, it parallels I-25's eastern side through Fountain
(Santa Fe Ave.), Security-Widefield, through an interchange with SH
16, and then through an interchange with Academy Blvd. North
of Academy, US 85 takes two sharp turns and goes via an overpass to
the western side of I-25. The western side of the overpass, at
milepost 137.04, at the B Street/Venetucci Blvd intersection marks the end of the state-maintained part of US 85
where a section has been turned back to the city. There's even a
"Begin City Maintenance" sign. Some maps show US 85 using Nevada Ave north through Colorado Springs, but don't look for signs.
You won't find another section of state-maintained US 85 until you get to I-25 Exit 184 at Castle Rock. It is a partial cloverleaf interchange at Founders Parkway/Meadows Parkway, with US 85 going west from the interchange on Meadows and SH 86 going east on Founders. US 85 goes west on Meadows about a half mile, then turns north on its historic alignment. US 85 drifts northwest through Sedalia and past Louviers, at and Titan Road becomes a divded expressway. It skirts the west side of Highlands Ranch, becoming Santa Fe Drive, and comes into metro Denver proper. It goes through an interchange with SH 470, and follows the South Platte River north through Littleton, Englewood, Sheridan, and finally into Denver.
Santa Fe Drive is a quasi-urban freeway north of downtown Littleton. It has three continuous lanes in each direction, a jersey barrier down the median, a 45mph speed limit, and interchanges at Belleview Ave. (SH 88) and Evans Ave. The right two lanes in each direction are general-use lanes, but the left lane is a part-time HOV lane. In the morning, it goes northbound, in the evening southbound. When the HOV restrictions aren't in place, it's a general-use lane. Also, even if the HOV restrictions are in place, you can still go into the HOV lanes to get to left-turn lanes.
US 85 then disappears at I-25 Exit 207. Going northbound, you can take a right exit to northbound I-25, which dumps you into the left lane of I-25. Bad design! If you continue on Santa Fe, it becomes a Denver city street, one-way northbound toward downtown.
The next place US 85 is signed is I-70 Exit 276A, so to get to that from Santa Fe Dr., one must use I-25 north to I-70, then I-70 east. All in that stretch, there are no US 85 signs except for a couple of stray markers on I-70. From I-70, US 85 heads northeast concurrent with US 6 on Vasquez Blvd. northeast through Commerce City. There are two partial interchange with SH 2, plus a partial cloverleaf with I-270 Exit 2. US 6-85 continues northeast to I-76, where they merge with it at a partial interchange, Exit 9. At this point US 6 disappears, but US 85 departs from I-76 just northeast of there at Exit 12. Watch out, because US 85 has a two-lane left exit.
From I-76, US 85 continues north as a major divided highway along the east side of the North Front Range. Traffic can get pretty heavy at some times of the days with commuters going to/from metro Denver. Also, you can do some serious railfanning if you're into that, because a mainline UPRR railway is within a stone's throw of US 85 from I-76 all the way to Nunn. The centerpiece of all of the towns on US 85 from I-76 to Nunn (except for Greeley) is the grain elevator complex tied to the UPRR railway. Kudos to Andy T. for pointing out that before I was erroneously referring to it as a BNSF line.
Anyway, US 85 goes through Brighton (interchange at SH 7), Fort Lupton (interchange at SH 52), Platteville, Gilcrest, La Salle, and then into metro Greeley. All towns get a least a somewhat functional bypass on US 85, and it never drops below four lanes. In south Greeley there is an interchange at the US 85/BR 85/US 34 meeting place. Justin McDonald calls it the Rat Trap, and that's not a bad name for it. Hit my US 34 page for the story on this interchange, plus a map of it.
The US 85 bypass passes to the east of downtown Greeley, while BR 85 goes right through it on 8th Ave. North of town, they join up at a partial interchange. US 85 continues north through Lucerne, Eaton, and Ault, and the expressway finally ends on the north side of Ault. Pierce and Nunn are the next towns, and on the north side of Nunn, US 85 has a high, swooping overpass over the UPRR rail line. There is not much north of Nunn, with the only blip on the map being Rockport, nothing more than a diner at the intersection with Weld CR 126. US 85 then passes into Wyoming, somewhat confusingly, because the "Welcome to" signs going each direction are about a 1/3 mile apart on the road. Where's the border?
US 85 is an original 1920s US highway in Colorado. It was generally along its current alignment and I-25's south of Castle Rock. At first in Pueblo US 85 used Lake-Union-Main-15th-Court-25th-Elizabeth going north through town and Santa Fe-Iowa-Broadway-Brighton-Vasquez going northeast through Denver. Also, US 85 was routed through Palmer Lake and Larkspur along what is now Spruce Mountain Road. In Greeley it used 8th Ave-9th St-11th Ave north through town. In Trinidad it used Santa Fe-Commercial-Arizona-North-Lincoln. By 1938 US 85 was paved from one end of the state to the other.
By 1942 a realignment happened in the northeast Denver, with the
opening of Vasquez Blvd north of 46th Ave. Prior, US 85 used Brighto
Blvd northeast from downtown, but starting in 1942 it jogged east on
46th Ave to Vasquez Blvd then went northeast.
By 1947 the alignment in Pueblo had changed, using Lake-Main-Grand-9th-Elizabeth northward through town, and used Santa Fe-Iowa-Broadway-Brighton-46th-Vasquez through Denver. By 1949 the Greenhorn/Crow bypass near present-day Colorado City was open, and by 1950 the Palmer Lake/Larkspur bypass was open, each putting US 85-87 onto the current alignment of I-25. By 1951 the expressway on the north side of Pueblo (north of 13th St.) was open, so US 85-87 used Lake-Main-Grand-13th/14th (two one-way streets) then the expressway north through town. That was changed by 1954 so US 85-87 used Lake-Main-Grand-9th-Santa Fe-expressway north through town.
By 1957, US 85-87 had the expressway Fountain bypass open, and was expressway from Colorado Springs to Castle Rock. US 85 was expressway from County Line Road north into Denver, from Denver to Platteville and Peckham to Greeley. The Castle Rock bypass opened by 1958, and US 85-87 was expressway continuously from Pueblo to Castle Rock. By 1959, two lanes of the Trinidad elevated highway were open. By 1960 US 85-87 was freeway from south of Pueblo to Monument, and north of Denver the expressway was extended north to south Greeley. The Greeley bypass with interchanges opened by 1964, the expressway was extended north to Eaton by 1965, the SH 7 interchange was put in by 1966, and the expressway was complete north to Ault by 1967. The SH 52 interchange was put in by the mid-1970s.
I-25 started eating up US 85-87 south of Castle Rock starting in the early 1960s, so see the I-25 listing for history there.
E-mail from C.C. Slater:
Incidentally, there is quite a lot of old concrete to be found in the 85-87 corridor. You can pick up a short section between exit 114-110(near the rest areas between Springs and Pueblo); and again at exit 42 near Rugby, going south through Aguilar. There is a nice intact section between the rest area at MP80(a deadly little central reservation jobber) and north towards MP 83; best seen while travelling northbound. This stretch includes an intact bridge. Unfortunately, it's on private property, so you have to admire it at a distance.
Sometime in the late 1990s, a section of US 85 through south Colorado Springs was turned back to the city. US 85 from the SH 29 intersection at Lake Ave/Venetucci Blvd south to the I-25 overpass at Milepost 137 became a city street. This left an odd, disconnected but still marked section of US 85 from I-25 Exit 140 south along Nevada then west along Lake, ending at Venetucci.
On November 3, 2001, what had been the Exit 183 partial interchange on I-25 in Castle Rock permanently closed. It allowed people to go directly from NB 25 to NB 85 and SB 85 to SB 25, but it was closed as part of a much larger overall plan in the area, which included the construction of the partial cloverleaf Founders/Meadows interchange at Exit 184, and a new overpass and connection to Front Street. Traffic now uses Meadows Parkway to go between I-25 and US 85.
US 85 used to have a state-maintained business route through Brighton. It was turned back in the first part of 2003.
I-25 Exit 140 Nevada/Tejon used to be a truly substandard
interchange with slow ramps. If you wanted to go from SB I-25 to SB
85 , you exited SB I-25, but instead of going directly onto SB 85,
you were dumped to a T intersection with Arvada St., a local
east-west street. So, you had to go east on Arvada for a couple of
blocks to get to Nevada. Fortunately the interchanged was upgraded to
the split diamond it is now, with completion in Fall 2003.
South of Highlands Ranch CDOT has been conducting widening in
stages. The Titan Rd interchange opened in 2002 and the expressway from
Highlands Ranch south to Titan Rd was completed in Fall 2005.
On October 1, 2007 as part of the Powers Blvd route swap, the south
Colorado Springs section of US 85 was
done away with (although it took a few months for signs to change). The
section from I-25 Exit 140 to the Nevada/Lake interchange was
renumbered as an extension of SH 115, while the section of Lake from
Nevada to Venetucci was turned back to the city. Following the change,
north of Fountain US 85 simply ended at the overpass at I-25 Milepost
137, not to appear again until Castle Rock.
In December 2008, CDOT did some housekeeping cleanup of US 85 in the
Colorado Springs area due to the Powers route swap. Despite the fact it
was not even signed between the I-25 overpass south of town and Castle
Rock, CDOT offically moved US 85 (and US 87) off of its historic
alignment along Nevada Ave through town onto I-25. It was purely a
paperwork exercise, since no signing in the field changed as a result
of it and you could not even enter I-25 from US 85 at the overpass
south of town. But it was an acknowledgement of US 85/87's historic
alignment and the changes that have happend since I-25 came through
In December 2011 the flyover from southbound US 85 to eastbound SH
470 opened, lessening delays for traffic that previously had to wait to
turn left at the diamond interchange.
The expressway section in the North Front Range doesn't go far enough north. Right now, it ends just north of Ault, and it should be longer, up to Nunn. The section between Castle Rock and C-470 needs to be divided expressway. The section between C-470 and I-25 should be a freeway, but that's never going to happen.
Last updated 9 March 2014