It's finally here. A quicker, safer route between South Bend and Plymouth opened to drivers Thursday morning.
Drivers saw a few opening day hiccups on the new 31 – one in the area just south of the US 20 Bypass near Kern Road, where drivers merge onto the new interstate and the other was on the south side of the new road, near Plymouth.
Traffic bottle-necked as drivers worked their way in and out of ongoing construction in those areas.
According to INDOT spokesman Matt Deitchley, the back-ups were likely caused by people “looking around and learning the new road.” He said he expects traffic flow to improve in the next day or so as drivers get used to the new route.
Marshall County and Indiana State Police also responded to a minor fender bender at 5A Road and the US 31 less than an hour after the new road opened.
An officer on scene told a WSBT photographer the drivers involved in the accident “had no idea” where they were. One 911 caller told police dispatchers the crash was located at least 3 miles north of the actual location.
Meanwhile, the new interstate is also making the drive safer, Deitchley said. The Old 31 between South Bend and Plymouth had some 500 driveways and side roads but the new road eliminates all of that. Deitchley said he’s “confident” the New 31 will save lives.
In May WSBT investigated whether the Bypass is bad for business. In a special report, reporter Kelli Stopczynski spoke with some Kokomo business owners who said the 31 Bypass around that town caused their profits to plummet.
Just like it does in Kokomo, the new road takes drivers around Lakeville in St. Joseph County. But there are mixed reviews about what it might mean for that town.
Inside Off the Clock liquor store in Lakeville, Rosemary Roberts couldn’t help but be excited about what was happening outside.
“No semis, it’s fantastic!” she said. “No semis. That’s always the loudness and they fly through here.”
Roberts said she and others in the small town have waited for this day for years.
“We're going to have outside lighting, we're going to have park benches,” she continued. “They're talking about making this into a two lane road where there will be angled parking. We have a lot of ideas of how to make it so much prettier.”
The vision for Roberts and some others is to make Lakeville a destination town.
Many people who live there say it’s also safer now.
There was a noticeable difference in the amount of traffic there Thursday.
“It’s actually what I expected today. I knew it would be slow,” said Casey’s Mini Mart cashier Beth Walesiewicz.
The Mini Mart and gas station is across Old 31 from the liquor store.
Walesiewicz said she’s not sure what to think. She likes the fact that there are fewer semis and less traffic, making Lakeville safer, she said. But she also worries the bottom line there will hurt because of it. The store makes a lot of money on home Notre Dame football weekends, she added.
But without the extra traffic, it will just be a game of “wait and see.”