By Jeff Curts
The $600 million Major Moves project designed to turn US 31 through Hamilton County into an interstate-quality, limited access highway, continues to make gradual progress as 2012 unfolds.
“The overall pace of construction has been good”, says Harry Maginity, Communications Coordinator for the Indiana Department of Transportation. “It’s an ongoing, multi-faceted process, but things are moving along well.”
The upgrade is intended to reduce congestion, improve safety and move traffic faster through our portion of a US highway that stretches from Michigan to Alabama. When completed in 2017, the improvements are expected to cut a half hour off travel time between Indianapolis and South Bend.
Locally, the project will upgrade US 31 from I-465 to SR 38. Once complete, there will be new interchanges from 96th St. at the Marion-Hamilton county line to 216th St. in Westfield. Upgrading the 13 miles of highway to federal interstate standards will be, in terms of dollars, the largest and most aggressive road project ever in Hamilton County.
The latest milestone was reached in December when construction crews finished work that reopened all lanes at SR 38. Midway through a two-year phase that will make that area a limited-access interchange, plans call for US 31 to pass over SR 38, with the two roadways connected via ramps. The northbound bridge was built last year; the southbound bridge is slated for construction this year.
While most agree that the upgrades are needed, more than a handful of businesses appear to be impacted.
Jim Godby, owner of Godby Home Furnishings in Westfield, understands the reality of the project, but wishes the communication process would have been better. “We haven’t heard a thing from the state,” lamented Godby. “This project has been discussed for 10 years, but as a businessman, I have no idea regarding its affect on us. I assume we will be impacted, but its status quo here until we’re notified.”
Bob Taylor, General Manager and partner at Charleston’s Restaurant, located at 14636 U.S. 31 in Carmel, reserved comment but added “we’re going to need some luck” when asked about his business’s prospects. The restaurant appears to be in the crosshairs of scheduled road improvements.
Maginity points out that the state contracted with Indianapolis-based public relations firm Borshoff to communicate with various stakeholders, including businesses, through the formation of a Community Action Committee that has met on a regular basis. In addition to holding public meetings and issuing e-newsletters, the project team has met with more than 220 business owners, neighborhood associations, and property owners. Packets have been mailed to all businesses that may be affected by the construction. The project team has been in regular contact with Barbara Schick, General Manager of Clay Terrace, as work has continued on the 146th St. bridge.
Several other businesses may need to make contingency plans as construction intensifies over the coming months. “In Hamilton County, the construction is more difficult because of the road capacity and because we’re rebuilding existing roads. We’re building as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible with as minimal disruption,” explained Maginity. “There are bound to be some inconveniences, and while it’s true that some businesses may feel the effects from both a bottom line and decrease in foot traffic, there are guidelines INDOT has put in place to…compensate businesses and homeowners under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970.”
Here’s what motorists can expect once the weather warms up in the spring:
Work continues on the S.R. 38 interchange north of Westfield. U.S. 31 will again be restricted to one lane in each direction as the southbound lanes, ramps and bridges are completed.
Keystone Parkway will be closed where it meets U.S. 31 for 90 days southbound and 80 days northbound to shift traffic and rebuild the interchange. As part of this contract, new ramps will also be built connecting U.S. 31 with 146th Street. The Range Line Road intersection will be replaced with a bridge that carries U.S. 31 over local traffic. For further information, visit http://us31hamiltoncounty.in.gov/128.html
The next construction contract, scheduled for bid in summer of 2012, will reconfigure U.S. 31 access at 151st Street, Union Street and Greyhound Pass.