U.S. 31 bypass of Kokomo opens Tuesday

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It's a plan two decades in the making and coming at a cost of more than $150 million. Tuesday, the bypass around Kokomo opened to drivers.

It skirts the city and promises a faster commute from Indy to South Bend. But does it deliver?

I experienced two firsts today.  I was able to drive the new 31 bypass around Kokomo and I only hit two red lights driving through the city. Both are important because I put both routes, the new and the old one, to the clock. 

It's a question everyone has always wondered about since the project was announced.  How much time will a $155 million, 13-mile strip of new highway around Kokomo actually save me?

Our Eyewitness News live truck was the first vehicle to head northbound on the new 31 after it officially opened to the public this afternoon, so we had a clear path to find out.

"The goal of this thing is to go from South Bend to Indianapolis and from Indianapolis to South Bend and set your cruise control. Never hit the brake! Right," said John Letherman of the US 31 Coalition during the grand opening ceremony.

The ceremony had all the pomp and circumstance one would expect.

"We brought in the highway 31 bypass under budget and ahead of schedule and just in time for the holidays," Governor Mike Pence proudly announced.

The new four-lane divided freeway includes five interchanges.  It is certainly a less congested drive than old 31, which will now be called State Road 931 through Kokomo.  We also drove 931, all 15 stop lights of it, through Kokomo and put it to the clock. 

In what had to be a first, we only hit two red lights.  We were seemingly on a roll.  We cleared Kokomo in around 15.5 minutes.

We were in line for the ceremonial first lap led by the governor but speeds hovered around 25 to 30 mph.  When we got back on, when it opened up for the public, we were able to drive the 65 mph speed limit.  We finished the new 13 mile bypass in just under 11 minutes.

So in our very unscientific test it saved around 4.5 minutes.  I will let you be the judge on cost effectiveness, but keep this in mind: The entire $680 million Highway 31 renovation project is projected to save 30 minutes. 

The 13-mile highway will divert traffic from the Howard-Tipton county line to the north side of Kokomo, allowing through traffic to avoid 15 traffic signals on what is now U.S. 31. After today, that road past Kokomo's auto plants and shopping malls will be renamed State Road 931.

The $155 million project was funded through the Major Moves program under former Gov. Mitch Daniels, using proceeds gained from leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a private contractor.

INDOT project site

About the project:

The four-lane, divided freeway extends just to the east of Kokomo and, in addition to the S.R. 931 junctions at either end, includes five interchanges at U.S. 35, S.R. 26, Touby Pike, U.S. 35/S.R. 22 and East Boulevard/CR 100 S. U.S. 35 is being realigned as well to run concurrent with U.S. 31 for a portion of the corridor.

Earlier this month, Governor Pence announced that all $722 million in Major Moves construction contracts had been awarded between Indianapolis and South Bend. When the final Hamilton County section opens to traffic at the end of 2015, a total of 32 traffic signals will have been removed from the drive, saving a half hour of travel time.

The 20-mile U.S. 31 corridor between U.S. 30 in Plymouth and the U.S. 20 bypass in South Bend includes 15 miles of new highway alignment and four new interchanges. The $225 million section is scheduled to open to traffic by the end of 2014. The $342 million U.S. 31 Hamilton County project upgrades 13 miles of existing U.S. 31 between I-465 in Carmel and State Road 38 near Westfield, including nine new interchanges.

Earlier this year INDOT announced a separate project to build a new U.S. 31 interchange at State Road 28 near the 800,000-square-foot Chrysler Tipton Transmission Plant. Construction of the estimated $17 million interchange is scheduled to begin in 2015.