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Businesses, residents in Indianapolis suburb of Carmel face first full day of US 31 closure

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CARMEL, Indiana — Broken slabs of asphalt, rows of orange and white cones and construction vehicles obstructed the view Saturday morning outside Jersey's Cafe in Carmel, where a section of major highway is set to be closed for the next eight months.

U.S. 31 closed for construction to upgrade the highway to freeway standards after rush hour Friday, and although customers can make their way to the cafe through 136th Street, the family who owns the restaurant worries their business might be at risk of closing, too.

"It gets real tight in your chest area," said Bill McCammon, who helps his parents run the diner and works as a chef. "All that work we've put into it could very much go up in smoke in the next 10 months."

The Carmel work is part of a $1.2 billion reconstruction project for U.S. 31 linking Indianapolis and South Bend. Other major parts include a new bypass around Kokomo that opened in November and a new roadway section being built between South Bend and Plymouth.

Motorists won't be able use the highway between 136th Street and Old Meridian, but the Indiana Department of Transportation says businesses and St. Vincent Carmel Hospital still will be accessible via local roads.

The traffic was light Saturday morning, but INDOT spokesman Nathan Riggs said it normally takes a week or two for drivers to adjust and find the best alternative routes. The real chance of traffic will come during Monday morning rush hour and again a week later when many of the area schools come back from spring break.

The construction is the result of at least six years of planning, Riggs said. Expediting work on U.S. 31 also could free up resources to complete projects on Interstate 465 earlier.

Carmel resident Mindy Ross, who lives in a neighborhood just blocks from a section of 126th Street that also was closed for the weekend, called the roadwork a "temporary headache." She said the hassle now will be worth a faster commute once construction ends.

"It's part of life," she said. "You have to deal with that for progress."

Whether businesses such as Jersey's Cafe, started five years ago and featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, can make it through the "headache" is yet to be seen.

McCammon said while most store owners don't mind the construction, they needed more advanced notice to prepare for any slump in customers. INDOT announced the closure Feb. 25.

Incentives and tax abatements for business to help them over the hump would help keep locals afloat, McCammon said.

"We're no good if we're shutting our doors down," he said.

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