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MCEDA says no to 'J-turns' on U.S. 31

By Blair Yankey - byankey@perutribune.com

The Miami County Economic Development Authority on Wednesday approved a resolution opposing Indiana Department of Transportation’s proposal to install what they consider to be potentially dangerous “J-turns” on U.S. 31.

INDOT has tentatively scheduled to create the intersection alternative for U.S. 31 and State Route 218 in Miami County sometime in the near future. 

Instead of motorists crossing fast-moving lanes of traffic to get to the opposing lanes, drivers at a J-turn intersection turn right in the same direction of traffic, merge into the left lane, and then make a left turn into the direction they intend to travel, according to INDOT.

“J-turns help to increase safety by giving drivers only one direction of travel to cross at a time instead of two,” said Nichole Hacha-Thomas, media relations director for the INDOT Fort Wayne District. “People driving on S.R. 218 across U.S. 31 would have to cross both directions of traffic to get across the roadway safely. J turns make it so they navigate one direction of traffic, then the other.”

MCEDA Executive Director Jim Tidd read the resolution to the board – which says that the economic development agency strongly opposes INDOT’s funding and construction of any J-turn intersection on U.S. Highway 31 in Miami County or anywhere along the U.S. 31 Corridor.

The resolution says that although J-Turns may have their place in more rural areas within the state or midwest, MCEDA believes the current and future volume of traffic on the U.S. 31 corridor is beyond the capacity to be safely and efficiently handled by the installation of J-turns.

There are at least two other J-turns in the state – one in Vincennes District and the other in LaPorte District, Hacha-Thomas said. The first was installed in 2015 at S.R. 114 and U.S. 41, which Hacha-Thomas said has decreased crashes from an average of four per year to one fender bender and zero injury crashes.

In Miami County, two of three school corporations currently use U.S. 31 as a main artery for taking students to and from school. With J-turns, school buses loaded with children will be required to make U-turns on U.S. 31 and get back up to speed quickly to avoid accidents, Tidd read.

Another the intersection currently being proposed for a J-Turn is U.S. 31 and S.R. 218W. This intersection handles most of the 2,000 employed at Grissom Air Reserve Base, Tidd said, but J-turns will not accommodate both current and future base operations. 

Tidd read that the county has updated its comprehensive plan, which included a recommendation for intersection improvements on U.S. 31 throughout the county, and the construction and use of a J-Turn at any intersection was not recommended nor approved.

Although J-Turns are less expensive than interchanges that have been installed by INDOT both north and south of Miami County, and are viewed by INDOT as “short term” improvements, MCEDA still doesn’t approve. 

“The Authority encouraged INDOT to not spend critical highway funds on non-effective solutions or short-term projects and instead work with Miami County and other counties along the corridor to prioritize intersections of concern toward a long-term solution such as interchanges as funds become available,” Tidd read.

Board member Tom McKaig said he believes the J-turn proposal is a horrendous idea, especially at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Indiana 218.

“In this high-speed traffic area, trying to get across by way of a J-turn doesn’t work for semis or school buses. It’s just not reasonable,” McKaig said. “It would also be a killer of economic development and the Grissom Aeroplex is certainly valuable in terms of economic development and should not be (restricted) by J-turns.”

By unanimous vote, the MCEDA board approved and signed the resolution, which will be presented to Gov. Eric Holcomb for review.