US 31 has always been a rather important road in Indiana. So much so that before it was US 31, it was SR 1. This importance is shown by the fact that the original US 31 has been bypassed in several places throughout the state…and some of those are bypasses of bypasses.
An example is in Carmel. When the “new” US 31 was built along what is Meridian Street north of the Central Canal, it was, for a long time, a two lane road through Carmel. When the state decided to expand it to a four lane divided highway, the section that is now Old Meridian Street was bypassed for its current alignment.
But Kokomo was a different story. The US 31 bypass of that town opened in 1951. This moved the US 31 route from the city streets through downtown to a new alignment then east of the city. But for several years after construction, the new US 31 would be an alternate route. (The Vidette-Messenger of Porter County reported that the ribbon cutting on the Kokomo bypass was held in December 1959.) It wouldn’t take long until Kokomo moved out to the east to crowd the new bypass, making traffic overbearing on the new road.
How long, you ask? How about less than a year. There were already news stories at the end of 1951 stating that the new bypass was a traffic problem. But the State Highway Department decided to stand pat for a little while longer: almost two decades, sort of.
In the Kokomo Morning Times of 18 October 1967, it was announced that a NEW US 31 bypass was being planned…possibly. State and Howard County officials were contemplating several projects to make traffic smoother through the area. These projects involved US 31, US 35 and SR 19. It would take until the mid-2010s for two of these projects to come into full fruition. The SR 19 plan, which included extending that road from its end at US 35 north towards and into Peru, still has not happened. It is likely never to happen at this point.
The two US route projects were to go hand-in-hand. The plan was to build a new northern bypass of Kokomo for US 35. At the time, US 35 still entered downtown Kokomo, along Markland Avenue. The road then turned north on Washington Street until it followed Davis Road to the northwest out of the city. The 1967 plan called for US 35 to break from Davis Road roughly where it does today, bypassing Kokomo on the north and east to a point between the then current US 31 bypass and SR 19. Unlike the now almost decade old US 31, this new road would be a limited access route, allowing better traffic flow.
But the other part of the plan would be even more ambitious. US 31 would bypass Kokomo on the west, in an area between Howard CR 300W and CR 400W. It would start leave the then current US 31 south of SR 26, connecting back to its mother road near the Howard-Miami County Line. It would then cross the new US 35 bypass north of Kokomo. This would have the effect of creating a three-quarter loop around the city of Kokomo. This new facility, like US 35, would become a limited access alignment. This was, again, unlike the US 31 bypass completed in 1959.
The projects in this plan were, according to the newspaper, “projected for work by the year 1982.” The bypasses were to be taken into consideration with the “still planned for a near-future construction program will be completion of dual-laning between Kokomo and Peru of U.S. 31.”
The Morning Times also mentions that the “current” US 31 bypass wasn’t working as planned by the State Highway Department. “The present bypass was built to gear traffic away from the congestion of the city’s center. But, planners were not far-sighted enough to implement limited access as part of the present bypass.”
The newspaper also added an editorial comment to the end of the article. “It may be ten years until active efforts materialize to spark construction of the new bypass and an expansion of Ind. 19, but planners have committed themselves in 1967 as favoring these projects for the future.”
As it turned out, this project never came into being. SR 19 still ends at US 35. The newspaper claims that “the Ind. 19 to Peru stretch would accomplish three things at once. It would link Ind. 19’s broken portions, it would provide a north-south route around Kokomo and on the east side, and it would provide an adequate access route toward the Misissinewa Reservoir.”
The northern bypass of Kokomo would be accomplished with the completion of the current US 31 bypass of the city, some 40+ years after the plan mentioned above was created. US 35 now connects, and multiplexes, with US 31 east of Kokomo, following the new route to almost the end of the newly constructed bypass. The new bypass is also controlled access, or interstate standard. In the end, a bypass of Kokomo on the north, east, and south sides was completed. And, even though it added a couple of miles to the route, it would cut the travel time from Indianapolis to South Bend by up to 30 minutes.