US 31E begins as the Ellington Parkway at the corner of Main Street and US 31, US 31W, US 41 and US 431 (Spring Street) just east of Interstate 24 (I-24). The freeway's interchanges in the middle of the route mainly includes locally maintained streets such as Cleveland Street, East Trinity Lane, Hart Lane, and Broadmoor Drive.
Ellington Parkway ends at an interchange with SR 155 (Briley Parkway), about 0.56 miles (900 m) east of the Briley's I-65 junction. A ramp directing Ellington Parkway's northbound traffic to I-65 north is provided at the Briley/Ellington junction. Access to Ellington Parkway southbound is also provided by a ramp from I-65 south via exit 90A. The road is named for former Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who served two non-consecutive terms from 1959 to 1963, the other from 1967 to 1971. Ellington encouraged lots of road building throughout the state during his second term as governor.
After Nashville, the highway passes through Hendersonville and Gallatin, Tennessee.It never intersects Interstate 40.
U.S. Route 31E is the easternmost of two parallel routes for U.S. Highway 31 in Kentucky, in between each is Interstate 65 in Kentucky. At the north end is Louisville, Kentucky, starting at the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge. Going south, it goes through the towns of Mount Washington, Bardstown, New Haven, Hodgenville, Glasgow, and Scottsville before arriving at the Tennessee border. In the 19th century the same route was a stagecoach path between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee, and before that a postal route at least by 1820. Originally part of the Jackson Highway, the Works Progress Administration measured the total distance on 31E in Kentucky as 147.8 miles (237.9 km).
Its only interchanges with interstates are in Jefferson County; both of which are beltways: Interstate 264 (Watterson Expressway) and the I-265/Gene Snyder Expressway. However, it has intersections with the state freeways of Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway (in Nelson County) and with the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Parkway in Barren County.
There are various historical sites along 31E in Kentucky. Among them are Cave Hill Cemetery and Farmington Historic Plantation in Louisville, My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, and Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site just south of Hodgenville. Also, five historic monuments to the Civil War are along the path: three in Louisville, one in Bardstown, and one in Glasgow.
31E has been known as a dangerous road, with many risky spots. A historic one was at Coxs Creek in Nelson County, where a post office had to be relocated so traffic could see each other. Other dangerous spots in Nelson County where emergency personnel consider notorious are Gobel Lake Curve, Hibbs Lane, and
High Grove. As of Aug 23, 2017, the Hibbs Lane and High Grove reroute sections are almost complete and are in service. Minor work is still being done to some intersections and signage.
When the rerouting of 31E in Nelson and Spencer Counties was being planned, a survey of historic sites that could have been affected by the new route was studied, especially if the sites could one day become listed on the National Register of Historic Places.