August 25, 2013

Miami County to develop plan for U.S. 31

Officials worry changing road could hurt business.

By Carson Gerber For the Pharos-Tribune

---- — PERU — Miami County officials want to develop a strategic plan for U.S. 31 to prepare for a pending state project that will likely turn the highway into a limited-access freeway through the county.

Dennis Faulkenberg, executive director of U.S. 31 Coalition, which has advocated for upgrades to the highway since 1990, said Gov. Mike Pence has made it a goal to turn U.S. 31 into a freeway-style road from Indianapolis to South Bend.

He said the state hasn’t officially developed any blueprints for a new highway in Miami County, but said developing a limited-access freeway is part of the state’s long-term plan.

Parts of U.S. 31 in Kokomo, Indianapolis and South Bend are under construction and will limit access to the highway.

But the prospect of a freeway-style U.S. 31 with only a few interchanges in Miami County worries some officials, who say limited access could land-lock Peru and make it difficult for drivers to get into town.

Council member Craig Boyer said that’s why the county needs to develop a strategic plan for the highway that would maximize its benefit to the city and county.

“I’m a little frightened about what might happen to our county, and this plan had better be in place,” he said. “We’d better really be on our watch. This could be bad for businesses in Peru.”

County Commissioner Larry West said area officials will discuss where to put interchanges, access points and frontage roads, and come up with a blueprint that has the greatest benefit for area residents and businesses.

“We want to have a plan in place so we can make educated suggestions to the state before they just come along and tell us what they’re doing,” he said.

And Faulkenberg said that’s a definite possibility if the county doesn’t develop a strategy for U.S. 31.

“Counties really need to get ready for this before Indianapolis walks in and says ‘This is how we’re doing it,’” he said.

Besides the highway plan, commissioners said they also want to update the county’s comprehensive plan that maps long-term goals in areas like land use, education, health and recreation.

Commissioner Josh Francis said the comprehensive plan hasn’t been updated since 2003, and the state recommends updating it every five years.

He said the county’s U.S. 31 strategic plan would be incorporated into the new comprehensive plan.

“With all the changes that have happened, we’re looking at doing some major work on it to make sure it’s in place for this,” Francis said.

Although no timeline has been set for changes to U.S. 31 in Miami County, council president Ralph Duckwall said local officials need to be ready when it does come, and now is the time to prepare.

“What’s going to happen to U.S. 31 has been batted back and forth for 20 years,” he said. “ … But we need to be prepared for whatever eventually happens so that we have plenty of overpasses and as many interchanges as we can get.”