Part of a project to revitalize and improve one of the key gateways into Franklin is on hold after a utility company filed a lawsuit against the city.
Duke Energy sued the city of Franklin over intersection work being done along King Street on the east side of the city where the utility has an easement. The utility said they did not agree to the project, which would put more traffic near an electric utility pole, making it more dangerous to make repairs as needed, according to the lawsuit filed.
But city officials said they didn’t need the utility’s approval to do the work because it is within the right-of-way, or land owned by government for road projects.
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Johnson County Superior Court 1 Judge Kevin Barton agreed with the city’s stance last month, ruling that Duke Energy was not likely to win its case.
But Duke Energy appealed, and the judge put a halt to construction at that intersection while the case is being considered by the state court of appeals.
Now, the city has asked the state appeals court for a rush on the case so that construction doesn’t fall too far behind. Work had already started, leaving a more than one-foot drop-off that could become hazardous in the winter, and because the work is part of a $22 million project and delays could throw off other phases of work, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
The dispute is centered on the intersection of Country Club Lane and Longest Drive. The city wants to extend Country Club Lane to meet King Street. Work is also planned to extend Longest Drive to the McDonald’s and Fairway Lakes Drive out to King Street and to close off Golfview Place from King Street.
By doing that, the city will eliminate 90-degree turns in that area and also take traffic headed to the golf course, offices or Scotty’s Brew Club off of residential streets. Changing those intersections will create a better path for traffic heading to homes and businesses in that area from King Street, McGuinness said.
Duke Energy has an easement for a power pole at the intersection of Country Club Lane and Longest Drive and didn’t agree to the project. The utility has had the easement since the 1950s, said Angeline Protogere, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, in a statement.
“We believe the proposed intersection interferes with our ability to safely work on and quickly repair and upgrade our power transmission equipment in that easement. We originally obtained the easement for this very purpose,” Protogere said in the statement.
The city tried to reach an agreement with the utility but was unable to. The city decided to go ahead with the work because the project was needed and because officials do not believe Duke Energy’s easement stops them from doing work, city attorney Lynn Gray said.
If every government needed permission from anyone who owned an easement before doing a road project, then no work would ever be done because lots of groups own easements all over, some which date back to the 1800s, Gray said.
“We felt we needed to go forward. This project is too important to let one utility stop it,” she said.
Gray plans to ask the state appeals court to expedite the case, but until then, work cannot be done in that intersection under Barton’s order, she said.
The halt on construction has two significant impacts: possible safety issues of leaving a road under construction as-is and delays in the project, McGuinness said.
City officials have planned construction along King Street and Jefferson Street, which are all part of the project to improve the east gateway into the city, in phases so only two- or three-block sections were under construction at once to minimize the impact on traffic and businesses, McGuinness said.
Delaying this piece could throw off that timeline, he said.
And, if the delay lasts for too long, the city could be at risk of losing funding for the project, he said.
“It is very frustrating. This is a project we have been proud of, that we’ve been talking about for years,” McGuinness said.