BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Usually, when a freeway ends, it connects to another freeway or it becomes a city street. For US-31 in Berrien County, the freeway ends in woods and weeds.
That’s about to change.
Work is already underway on I-94 in Benton Township on a project that will take three years – through 2022 – to connect the unfinished US-31 freeway to I-94.
The original vision for the US-31 freeway was to connect I-94 and I-196 with the I-90/I-80 Indiana Toll Road in South Bend. Construction began in 1981, but the freeway was never finished.
Today, the US-31 freeway stops a few miles short of the interchange where I-94 meets I-196. Drivers are required to use Napier Avenue to get between I-94 and the US-31 freeway.
Construction was halted in 2002 when it was determined that if the freeways were connected as originally planned, it would lead to the destruction of the habitat of the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly, an endangered species that is only found in small areas of southern Michigan and northern Indiana. The same butterfly or one very closely related to the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is found in tiny areas of Alabama and Mississippi.
The Michigan Department of Transportation came up with an alternative plan, but the project hit another major snag.
“Before we could get the wheels turning again, Governor Granholm issued the Preserve First Program, which essentially ended all expansion of our transportation infrastructure,” notes MDOT Southwest Region spokesperson Nick Schirrippa. “So, no new highways were to be built unless they got special permission. This one did not qualify for some time.”
The wheels are turning again.
"This project is to finish that connection of US-31 to I-94,” says Schirripa. “We’re rebuilding two interchanges and reconstructing a little over three miles of I-94.”
Big machines are currently working along I-94 near the place where the new freeway will connect and on E. Main Street. Beginning in spring 2021, the heavy lifting begins:
- New pavement beginning on US-31.
- New bridges begun for roads over the new section of freeway.
- Realignment of the interchange where US-31 will meet I-94 and E. Main Street, with new ramps.
- Reconstruct three miles of the westbound lanes of I-94.
- Construction on local streets affected by the overall project.
- Begin construction of new bridges over the new part of the US-31 freeway.
- Rebuild bridges or build new bridges over I-94.
The project will be completed in 2022:
- Finish the new section of US-31 and the interchange at I-94.
- Rebuild eastbound lanes of I-94.
- Add a new eastbound lane that will connect the new I-94/US-31 interchange with I-196.
The project will cost a total of $121.5 million over three years.