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Crews are scrambling to reopen U.S 31 in Carmel by Thursday—giving beleaguered business owners in the construction zone another reason to be thankful this week.
But whether they meet the deadline is up to Mother Nature: The remaining work includes striping the new travel lanes, which requires dry, non-frigid conditions, said Nathan Riggs, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“We’re confident we will have windows of opportunity to get the work done before Thanksgiving,” he said Friday. “That’s what we promised, and we intend to keep our promise.”
INDOT closed more than a mile of the highway in April to accelerate construction of overpasses and interchanges that are part of a $1.2 billion plan to upgrade U.S. 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend.
The Hamilton County portion of the project is expected to be complete by the end of next year, Riggs said.
The roadwork diverted more than 50,000 vehicles from that stretch of U.S. 31 daily, straining businesses that depend on drive-by traffic.
In July, the city of Carmel rolled out a social media campaign dubbed #31bites to help local shops and restaurants attract customers.
Even when the barricades come down, they’ll have to endure the new normal: Motorists no longer will have U.S. 31 access at 126th Street/Carmel Drive, a largely commercial area. Instead, they’ll have to exit at 116th Street or 136th Street/Main Street.
Riggs said the highway likely will reopen in sections over the course of several hours, possibly in connection with short-term traffic restrictions while crews work in “critical areas.”
“It’s not like a big curtain is being pulled and everything will be open,” he said.
And construction will continue even after traffic begins flowing again, Riggs said. Only two of the three travel lanes will open right away.
“It’s an active work zone,” he said.