9.2 mile stretch of U.S. 31 bypass opens
By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- The Michigan Department of transportation began construction of it in 1998.
And finally, after almost five years of construction and decades of planning, the 9.2 mile stretch of US-31 from Berrien Springs to north Napier Avenue is open for traffic.
MDOT staff and elected officials, including Congressman Fred Upton, R-Mich., opened the new stretch of freeway at an afternoon ribbon cutting ceremony at the south end of the St. Joseph River bridge on Wednesday.
The ceremony, however, didn't take place until members of the Berrien County Riders, a local motorcycle group, formed a caravan that took the first official drive down the northbound lanes of the freeway.
The new stretch of road, which opened for traffic at 6 p.m. Wednesday, is expected to reduce travel time from Berrien Springs north to I-94 by 10 to 15 minutes and will make travel between the north and south part of the county more convenient.
Wahby said the opening of US-31 is significant and its economic impact will reach far beyond Berrien County.
Upton congratulated the many people who have been involved in the work on the new stretch of freeway.
He also commented on the impact the completed freeway will have for the region.
Problems have included lack of funding at state and federal levels, as well as problems with the projected path that went through the habitat of an endangered butterfly.
But Upton, who has been a key player in ensuring the freeway project has remained on track, also said the new stretch of freeway is important to increase the safety of drivers.
He mentioned the many serious accidents that have taken place on Old US-31 between Berrien Springs and the twin cities; the latest one involving a young man from Buchanan who lost his life in a traffic accident last week.
But like many others in the region, Jelinek looks into the future and wants to see US-31 eventually connect with I-94 at Napier.
The 1.9 mile stretch of Napier Avenue has been widened to five lanes between US-31 and I-94 and will serve as the connector between the two freeways.
US-31 now includes interchanges at Pipestone Road, Tabor Road, US-31/Berrien Springs/M-139 and at Napier Avenue.
A total of 11 bridges were constructed for the project.