By Pete Smith
This year will mark the start of when the portion of U.S. 31 in Carmel is transformed from major thoroughfare to freeway.
Gone will be all stoplights north of I-465, but in their place will surely come construction delays, detours and all the headaches that come along with them.
Residents of Westfield can attest to this, as their section of U.S. 31 began construction this year. But the only way to remain calm is to keep an eye on the future and the smoother – and less accident prone – traffic patterns that are likely to emerge when all the work is finished.
The over-arching philosophy that the Indiana Department of Transportation is deploying with its construction plans is, working on the outside in 2014, and then working on the inside in 2015.
“A lot of what we’re doing in 2014 is to prepare for the expedited construction in 2015,” said INDOT spokesman Nathan Riggs.
That means a focus on rebuilding local roads and creating ramp systems and bridges in 2014 to handle the reconstruction of mainline U.S. 31 later.
Riggs also said that the goal for 2014 is to keep at least two lanes of traffic open in each direction. But watch for turn-lane restrictions and lane shifts as these will change constantly throughout the year.
Riggs expects new fly-over ramps at U.S. 31 and I-465 to be constructed before the end of the year.
Construction has begun to create the foundation for the flyovers, and future bridge construction over lanes of traffic should be similar in schedule to what happened when the Allisonville Road bridge was rebuilt in 2012. Motorists should expect restrictions late at night that could result in complete traffic stoppage lasting up to 20 minutes in duration, Riggs said.
A new interchange is also planned for Main Street that will allow for more direct contact between downtown and West Carmel.
103rd Street will no longer have U.S. 31 access – all drivers will need to head north to 106th Street to access U.S. 31 or to cross over.
The intersections of 111th Street and U.S. 31 and Carmel Drive and U.S. 31 will both lose access to the new freeway. Overpasses will be constructed at each intersection to allow traffic to pass under the new freeway.
The construction of the new overpasses is expected to take about six months.
Also a temporary stoplight and slip ramp will be constructed to allow drivers on northbound U.S. 31 to access westbound I-465. The new stoplight is likely to cause further delays for both directions of U.S. 31 traffic for about 30 days.
A new roundabout will be constructed at the intersection of Pennsylvania and 116th Streets.
When finished, it will rapidly speed traffic congestion at the new bottleneck. But with no nearby access roads, workers in nearby office parks will have longer commutes while the entire intersection is closed to traffic for two months this year. The time is now to plan for a new lunch route or to start brown-bagging it.
Another roundabout will be constructed concurrently at Pennsylvania and Main Street.
And in 2015, a section of U.S. 31 will be closed completely between Old Meridian and 136th streets. The traffic from that closure will be rerouted to Keystone Parkway between I-465 and U.S. 31.
People in Carmel should see notable progress this year, Riggs said.
Riggs said INDOT is hopeful that all U.S. 31 construction will be complete by the end of 2015. And combined with the completion of the Kokomo bypass, travel time to South Bend could be reduced by up to half an hour.
To stay up-to-date on traffic alerts Riggs recommends subscribing to the U.S. 31 construction e-newsletter on INDOT’s Website, using INDOT’s text messaging service or following INDOT on Facebook or Twitter for up to the minute notifications. Above all, try and exercise caution and patience while driving in the area.
“It’s going to be a very busy year,” Riggs said.