By the end of the week, two months of detours around a busy Whiteland intersection will end and the town will have a new and improved entrance.
The roundabout that has been under construction since April at Whiteland and Graham roads is set to open Friday morning.
The $1 million project is expected to significantly improve traffic at the intersection, where backups were a daily occurrence at the four-way stop sign, especially during rush hour due to motorists who access Interstate 65 via Whiteland Road.
Town officials said the new roundabout — the largest in the county — will be a new entrance into the town and into what they hope will become a key industrial area in the county in the near future.
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The end of this construction project also means the end of detours and drivers being ticketed for driving past the barricades to see if the intersection is truly closed.
But it won’t be the end of construction in the area.
Next up, the state will close a section of Hurricane Road just south of there while crews rebuild a bridge over Interstate 65.
That upcoming bridge project was a key reason why the roundabout had to open by the end of this week, town manager Norm Gabehart said.
Officials also wanted to reopen the intersection as quickly as possible, since it is a key route for more than 24,000 commuters heading to and from I-65 every day.
Frustrations were definitely high during the closure. Residents reported 100 or more vehicles passing the barricades to see if the intersection was truly closed, and then having to turn around and head back. As recently as this weekend, police still were ticketing drivers for ignoring the road closed signs.
At one point, one driver used a key to turn on and move a piece of construction equipment out of the way so he or she could get through, Gabehart said. And at the end of last week, town employees parked town vehicles at the barricades to prevent traffic from going
through, since much of the construction equipment was already gone, he said.
“I had never seen anything like this,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s because there’s so much construction overall that people are at their wits’ end.”
Orange barrels are all over this summer. Construction continues on an $84 million project to widen I-65 between Greenwood and Franklin, and crews have been repaving U.S. 31 from Greenwood to Franklin. The roundabout project already had been pushed back a year so that work could be done to add a new interchange on I-65 at Worthsville Road, and the city has continued work to widen and improve the road from there to U.S. 31.
Minor work on the roundabout will need to continue after it opens, mainly for landscaping inside the roundabout, but that is expected to wrap up quickly and won’t effect traffic, Gabehart said.
The town also is trying to get one last piece of work done in the hours before the intersection opens: repaving Whiteland Road between the trucks stops just west of I-65 to the new roundabout.
Gabehart said he views the new roundabout as more than just a way to improve traffic, though that will be a key benefit. He also sees it as a new gateway into the town, and the area west of the interstate that officials hope will become the next industrial area in Johnson County.
“When you come in off the interstate and head into Whiteland, this changes the image of the entire community,” he said.
At least one business is interested in some of the land just west of the interstate, and Gabehart is considering plans for a truck route that would take semi traffic away from the roundabout in the future as traffic continues to increase in that area.
The roundabout was built to accommodate truck traffic, but as that increases with more development, the town should create a truck route to help relieve traffic at the roundabout, he said.
But for now, he said he is looking forward to significantly fewer back-ups from when traffic gets lined up at the stop sign, which will carry into the town since drivers will be less frustrated and less likely to floor it once they finally get out of the stop and go traffic, he said.
“The improvement of the stacking, the congestion that exists out there, we really think it’s going to help the pace of the traffic out there,” he said.
Here is a look at other ongoing construction projects:
Interstate 65: Crews are widening the interstate between Franklin and Greenwood
Hurricane Road: Starting Monday, the road will be closed just south of the Whiteland interchange where a bridge over I-65 will be rebuilt
U.S. 31: Crews are repaving the highway between Greenwood and Franklin
State Road 37: Once work finishes on U.S. 31, workers will begin repaving the highway through Johnson County