A project decades in the making will be ready for Southwest Michigan motorists in a few weeks.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is expected to finish the final round of paving on I-94, U.S. 31 and the interchange of I-94 and I-196 in five to six weeks. MDOT anticipates the extended U.S. 31 will open in mid-October.

U.S. 31 currently ends at Napier Avenue, and those traveling northbound must take Napier Avenue west for two miles before getting back on I-94.

This three-year project began in 2020 and will create 1.8 miles of new roadway and cost $121.5 million.

MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa said the agency will close the eastbound I-94 ramp to northbound I-196 for a couple weeks during that span, but will notify the public prior to doing so.

“We are on schedule and on budget, so that is great news,” Schirripa said.

After the paving is finished, both eastbound and westbound traffic will return to their typical bounds, but the one lane will be closed in each direction, so MDOT can install guardrails and signage.

The median work will take another five to six weeks, after which all three lanes will be open.

The transportation agency will also have to install wetlands to absorb highway runoff alongside these roadways next year. However, this work will not close any lanes of traffic, Schirripa said. Only shoulders could be affected.

“The stuff we do next year won’t affect traffic much,” he said.

A 1967 MDOT study found the need to extend U.S. 31 from Indiana to I-94. Construction began in 1979 and continued until the 1990s, when the freeway reached its current end at Napier Avenue. In 2004, an environmental study found the Mitchell’s satyr butterfly, a federal endangered species, lived in the Blue Creek Fen between Benton Center and Millburg.

Those interested in the project and its history can check out the U.S. 31/I-94 Connector StoryMap.

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