MDOT officials want to start construction on U.S. 31 I-94 connector in 2021

NOW: MDOT officials want to start construction on U.S. 31 I-94 connector in 2021

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- After more than 50 years, state officials say they are ready to start construction next year to connect US Highway 31 to Interstate 94 in Berrien County.

Instead of constructing a bridge, the Michigan Department of Transportation is proposing to build cul-de-sacs on Empire Avenue on both sides of the future US-31.

This would streamline the traffic flow in the county, something neighbors familiar with the area said has been long time coming.

“It’s been postponed so many times it was really a shock when they said they were finally going to complete the project,” nearby resident Harold Cray said.  

MDOT representatives hosted a public meeting Wednesday night, seeking feedback on newly revamped designs.

Many longtime Benton Harbor homeowners like Cray came to get answers.

 “There have been concerns on everything from the cost of the project to detours to access to property,” Cray said.

“Many people here just don’t seem to be too clear on exactly what the project entails.”

MDOT official Sarah Fedders helped lead the discussion with attendees.

“What we’re looking at doing is not actually building that bridge and paving,” Fedders said. “Those are some of the local roads that they’d be using instead of crossing over Empire.”

The original plan boasted a hefty price tag of $5 million but the new plan slashes that to now just over a million dollars and local roads will get repaved in the process. The plans are to resurface Hillendale Road from Britain Avenue to Empire Avenue and Paul Road from Britain Avenue to Highland Avenue.

“Right now they are getting off of an interstate onto local roads, to get back onto an interstate,” Fedders said. “This connector will just complete the drive in one through movement.”

“The main convenience is going to be taking truck traffic off of what should be local roads and putting it back onto a four-lane expressway,” Cray said. “It’s a pretty positive way to have this project completed.”

MDOT plans to review the comments it received and getting to work on construction by next year. If all goes as planned it hopes to have the connector completed by the fall of 2022.

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