On most days, a police car parks on the side of a Franklin street, waiting for semis coming from Interstate 65 to disregard truck route signs and drive into downtown.
When they do — which happens at least weekly — the officer frequently stops them and writes a ticket.
In the past 10 months, Franklin police wrote nearly 100 tickets to truckers who passed up the city’s truck route to cut through downtown, and each one comes with a $250 fine, Franklin Deputy Police Chief Chris Tennell said.
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In the two years since the city took ownership of what had previously been State Road 44, police have tried educating truck drivers, putting up new signs and getting street names changed on mapping and GPS programs. But that hasn’t stopped trucks from continuing on King Street and Jefferson Street into downtown Franklin, slowing and blocking traffic and causing more wear and tear to the roads, Tennell said.
But when construction begins on Jefferson and King streets in the next few years, that roadwork could serve as the deterrent truckers need to send them along the designated truck route, city council member Steve Barnett said.
For now, police have a zero tolerance approach: if truckers don’t have a delivery downtown, they don’t need to be driving through it. And any semi downtown that can’t provide proof of a delivery could be ticketed and fined.
In 2014, when Franklin became responsible for 4 miles of State Road 44 west of I-65, the city began enforcing a truck route that the Indiana Department of Transportation created, sending semi traffic around downtown and out to U.S. 31. Officials want to keep semis out of downtown because they back up traffic when they sit at intersections, or try to turn onto narrow streets. Some get lost and end up driving through residential streets looking for a way back onto a main road. And downtown streets wear down faster because of the weight of the semis.
Since then, police have tried to educate truckers by stopping them and explaining the location of the city’s truck route when they saw a semi passing through downtown to get to U.S. 31. City officials realized King and Jefferson streets still were labeled as State Road 44 on GPS maps, and asked Google Maps to do an update, showing King Street, instead of State Road 44, near the I-65 exit ramp.
Two years ago, the city put up signs explaining where the truck route was. But truckers still were driving into downtown, not seeing or ignoring the sign.
So this year the city put additional signs along King Street just east of Eastview Drive that direct semi traffic to the truck route, Tennell said.
“The signs we put up are more than adequate. At this point, it’s just (truckers) completely disobeying traffic signs,” Mayor Joe McGuinness said. “I think it’s always going to be an issue.”
Now, on each shift, Franklin police dedicate one officer to watch for semi traffic, Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said.
In addition, other officers are stopping semis if they see them pass through downtown without a reason to be there, such as a delivery or pickup, O’Sullivan said.
The problem isn’t truckers who need to make deliveries downtown; rather, it’s the semis that use King and Jefferson streets as a connecting route to U.S. 31, Barnett said.
At Triple Play BBQ in Franklin, when owner Fred Paris looks out the front windows of his restaurant, he doesn’t notice much semi traffic cutting through downtown, he said. But as he drives into Franklin, he notices the police officer sitting on the side of King Street near I-65, he said.
When Andy Leeth is at his home near Water and King streets, he sees semis driving through downtown. Last week, one trucker looked lost while trying to go down Adams Street, he said.
Leeth also works downtown at The Willard and has noticed more semis than usual cutting through downtown streets in recent months, Leeth said.
“It’s not an inconvenience to me, but I’ve noticed a few more semis downtown than usual,” Leeth said. “It looks like a lot of them are just passing through downtown, not delivering.”
When the city of Franklin took responsibility for 4 miles of State Road 44 two years ago, police began enforcing a truck route, for semis traveling between U.S. 31 and Interstate 65.
From U.S. 31: Truckers should take Commerce Drive to Arvin Drive, following the road as it turns into Eastview Drive. Eastview Drive connects with King Street, where semis can head toward I-65.
From I-65: Truckers should turn onto Eastview Drive from King Street, following the road as it turns into Arvin Drive. Then, turn onto Commerce Parkway, which connects with U.S. 31.