Officials are warning about the need to control development that might follow an $800 million-plus project to upgrade parts of U.S. 31 between Indianapolis and South Bend.
Work is expected to be completed next year on a 13-mile bypass around Kokomo — a $160 million section with interchanges will avoid the highway's current stoplight-congested stretch through the city.
U.S. 31 Coalition executive director Dennis Faulkenberg told a Kokomo business group Tuesday that local and state officials also needed to pay attention to where the highway isn't being upgraded, including rural sections in Tipton, Miami, Fulton and Marshall counties, the Kokomo Tribune reported.
If planning isn't done to control growth in those areas, "the development will just migrate into the counties, and we'll have more driveways and stoplights," Faulkenberg said.
The state project will turn the most-heavily traveled parts of the 120-mile route between Indianapolis and South Bend into a limited-access highway.
Plans are for 20-mile upgrade into South Bend costing $220 million to be finished in 2014, with an estimated $436 million in U.S. 31 work in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis set for completion in 2015.
Howard County officials are considering new zoning rules to phase in development along the new Kokomo bypass.
Those are aimed at preventing a mass exodus of businesses from the current U.S. 31 route, said Chris Hamm, a principal planner with highway project consulting firm American Structurepoint of Indianapolis.
"Everyone loves something new," Hamm said. "What you wouldn't want is 15 new hotels and 12 new restaurants along the new corridor. You don't win in that situation. That would be a net 'push' for the community, and in a lot of ways, it's a negative impact."
Plans are in place to immediately allow corporate office space and light industrial development along the new bypass and to take a lengthy look at any proposed retail projects.
"What you want to avoid is allowing one guy to build one gas station on an acre of property out there, and for the local taxpayers to pay to extend water and sewers out to him," Hamm said. "But if someone came along and wanted to develop 25 acres into a commercial and retail hub, and pay for utilities and access roads themselves, that might be something you'd want to look at."