Business owners concerned about lack of access with new U.S. 31 configuration

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HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. (May 22, 2014) — U.S. 31 through Hamilton County is on its way to being a highway with fewer stoplights. But without traffic stopping, some businesses in the area say customers aren’t shopping.

High overpasses, retaining walls and dead end streets are creating confusion for drivers in the area of 151st street and U.S. 31.

“It’s been a little tough to navigate, I’d say, I mean yesterday I was trying to get somewhere and the road was closed. I didn’t even realize it was going to be closed,” said driver Allison Cook.

Spring is usually high season at Habig Garden Shops on the east side of U.S. 31, north of 151st Street. Part owner Chip Habig says his business is down about 30 percent right now. He blames the massive wall–part of the new construction–for blocking the view of his shop from the road.

“I’m in a business where it’s visual and we are more seasonal, but when that season starts dying back when I’m not in front of people where they can actually see the products I have, my business drops off sharply,” said Habig.

He’s been in business at his Carmel location for about 50 years. For the past several months, he’s watched the construction along U.S. 31 progress into its permanent configuration. With the elimination of access points, some local roads now don’t go through and he says drivers can’t hop off the highway as easily to stop and shop.

“With the end product, what I’m afraid is that people are going to drive right past this community and not stop at all at local businesses,” Habig said.

Driving right through is the overall plan for the INDOT project, which aims to bring U.S. 31 up to federal highway standards, eliminating stoplights and creating a faster trip between Indianapolis and South Bend. INDOT officials estimate the new highway design will cut down on travel time between the two cities by 30 minutes.

Some commuters said it has been a big help to get where they’re going faster.

“Already I’ve noticed the benefits of it,” said Cook.

For drivers who know where to go in the area of 151st and Greyhound Pass, like taking the back roads to find the Target there, some say it’s not such a big deal.

“We don’t use that part of 31 anyways so we just come the back way or just shoot right off of Keystone so it really hasn’t been that bad for us,” said Trina Lamoureux, who lives in the area.

Habig said he has already started reaching out to leaders in Carmel and Westfield to talk about creating connecting streets, but he’s concerned about the timeline. TGI Fridays recently closed its Carmel location.

“Truly in the long term I would think the local government would see what it needs to get the traffic flow pattern up through Westfield to get the town to survive everything they have planned. Whether or not I can stay in business that long, that’s a different story,” Habig said.