The issue: U.S. 31 travel safety.
Our view: The new U.S. 31 bypass, slated to open in November, might just be the catalyst of a new wave of growth in Howard County, as well as safer roadways.
As construction of a new U.S. 31 bypass east of Kokomo speeds toward completion this November, there are likely many area residents who still question the need for the project.
Some Indiana House Democrats might tell you leasing the Indiana Toll Road was a worse one. Not a single one voted for the $3.8 billion lease that was approved six years ago.
The former U.S. 31 Coalition disagreed with those Democrats. The group of residents and officers from nine cities, six counties and more than 20 companies along the U.S. 31 corridor said upgrading the current highway to a freeway would add jobs, improve safety and enhance drive times.
Without any improvements, it said speed along the length of the route would drop to an average of 36.1 mph. At that rate, traffic safety would suffer.
It was that issue — safety — that first caught the attention of the Indiana Department of Transportation. An INDOT study at the time found the fatal crash rate in Howard County along U.S. 31 was more than twice the state average between U.S. 35 and Tipton County Road 600 North. There was at least one fatal crash along that portion of U.S. 31 each year during the six-year study period.
The highway’s intersection at Markland Avenue, Lincoln Road and Boulevard annually make Kokomo’s most-dangerous-intersections list. And, as we reported Thursday, they were Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in traffic accidents from 2010 to 2012.
In fact, nine of the 11 most dangerous intersections in the city are located on U.S. 31, statistics show.
What does the future hold for the U.S. 31 corridor? According to the coalition and INDOT:
• Expansion and attraction of businesses, and changes in tourist activity, will produce an economic benefit of $1.3 billion over 30 years.
• Generation of $5.3 billion in savings from reduced travel times.
• Creation of 5,010 jobs.
• And most importantly, prevention of 2,600 accidents and 12 fatalities each year.
Traffic accidents in Kokomo fell 4 percent from 2011 to 2012, and 3.4 percent over the last five years, we reported Thursday. City traffic manager Dan Chaplin sees that trend only accelerating in the coming years.
“Preliminary studies show an 8 to 14 percent reduction on U.S. 31 traffic” with the opening of the new bypass, Chaplin said.
And with a reduction in through-traffic, Kokomo hopefully will realize a corresponding drop in accidents and fatalities at the city’s intersections with U.S. 31.
A new Kokomo bypass and the toll road lease were good ideas. They might just be the catalysts of a new wave of growth in Howard County, as well as safer roadways.