Limited-access freeway design will pose problems for retail centers

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CARMEL, Ind. – It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Monday the first closures for the U.S. 31 construction project in Hamilton County began. Monday morning 131st Street and Main Street closed on each side of U.S. 31, from Illinois Street on the west and Pennsylvania on the east.

INDOT said access to U.S. 31 from those points will be cut off through the fall.

The project is turning U.S. 31 into a limited-access freeway, like the one you see at Keystone Parkway. A portion of U.S. 31 between Old Meridian Street and 136th Street will be closed temporarily starting in April and lasting until November.

The short-term effects of the construction will be longer commutes and more congestion on side roads, but the long-term effect could impact businesses along that stretch of road.

Some retail centers along 126th Street/Carmel Drive will be cut off when the new U.S. 31 comes through, with the freeway style, but there will be an access road. To examine the real impact, just travel east in town and consider the now-complete construction on Keystone Parkway.

“Our business is a destination type of business,” said Terry Blake of Cell Phone Repair.

If you’ve got a broken phone or gadget, Terry Blake’s shop is the place to bring it.

“This mall was very empty when we first came here. There’ve been a few others that came in,” he said.

He moved to Merchants’ Square off 116th Street after the construction of Carmel’s Keystone Parkway was complete. Blake said foot traffic and location isn’t essential to his shop’s success.

“People are going to look to be coming directly to us,” he said.

What used to be a bustling shopping center in Merchants’ Square isn’t so much anymore.

“It’s been a pretty tough economic time,” said Blake.

The problem for some of these retailers is that Keystone Parkway operates now like an interstate. That’s soon to be coming with the redesign of U.S. 31.

“You don’t stop at a stop light and look around and see the businesses there, and say yeah I think that’s some place I’m going to go,” said Eric Seidensticker, Carmel City Council President.

Seidensticker said the interstate style changed the type of business that can be successful at Keystone Parkway and 116th Street.

“For all intents and purposes, Merchants’ Square’s almost become a destination, simply because people don’t get to stop and see the things,” he said.

He anticipates the same fate for some shopping centers along U.S. 31 when orange barrels roll out in a few weeks. It’s an adjustment Terry Blake is glad he won’t be dealing with.

“I feel sorry for some of the business owners on the other side, because they’re going to go through some of these pains also,” said Blake.

INDOT anticipates the entire U.S. 31 project will be complete by the end of 2015.

An agency spokesperson said they have continual meetings with both home and business owners in the area. There’s an open community meeting for updates on the project March 18 at Carmel High School. It starts at 6 p.m. in the freshman cafeteria.

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