U.S. 31 has been Kokomo’s commercial artery for half a century, going from a rural highway to a billboard-strewn retail center.
To the east, a new bypass is nearing completion, a road that will either supplant or compliment the old 31, depending on key decisions facing local officials.
One of the biggest decisions will be made in concert with the Indiana Department of Transportation, where state officials are hoping to “relinquish” the old 31, giving it to the city of Kokomo in perpetuity.
In dollar terms, it could be the biggest single decision facing the city, dwarfing downtown redevelopment and beautification issues.
The city could do many things with the corridor, from installing wider, grassy medians to putting in roundabouts. It could turn the corridor into an urban boulevard, and require most semi-trucks to use the new bypass. The city could redesign the landscape, and make efforts to reduce the number of tall highway signs along the old 31.
The city – or INDOT – could narrow the lanes on the four-lane road, creating space for alternative transportation.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said.
Right now, Goodnight said the city has “ideas” for the corridor, but he’s not willing to share.
“Right now, it’s a state highway, so I’m not sure it matters,” he says, brushing off queries on specifics.
Goodnight did say he thinks there’s consensus the road has too many stoplights, isn’t particularly safe (especially for pedestrians and two-wheeled traffic), can be congested during peak hours, and isn’t well maintained.
It’s that last point that’s a special concern, due to INDOT’s impending grand opening of the new bypass. When opened this winter, the new road will be named U.S. 31, and the old 31 will become U.S. 931.