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Franklin considers new layout for safer intersection

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The city of Franklin is planning a roundabout at the intersections of N Main Street, Walnut Street and Oliver Ave. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
The city of Franklin is planning a roundabout at the intersections of N Main Street, Walnut Street and Oliver Ave. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Franklin is looking into building its first roundabout at a five-way intersection where motorists have complained they can’t see oncoming traffic.

City officials say a roundabout would be the safest option for improving the intersection, where Main Street, Clark Street, Walnut Street and Oliver Avenue meet. Accidents have happened at the intersection when motorists pull into traffic without seeing other cars coming from the intersection’s odd angles, and a roundabout would make all traffic move in the same direction, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

But the city would need to buy and tear down a convenience store that sits between Main and Walnut streets for the roundabout to fit. If the cost of that property is more than city officials want to spend, the city could decide not to build the roundabout, McGuinness said.

Franklin officials have considered building a roundabout at the intersection since 2002 as part of the city’s North Main Street project, which includes replacing sewers and widening sidewalks on Main Street between Jefferson Street and U.S. 31, Franklin City Council member Steve Barnett said.

City officials wanted to make the intersection safer and decided a roundabout would prevent accidents and end traffic delays for motorists at the intersection’s stoplight.

If built, the roundabout will be the fourth in the county, and the first in Franklin.

Franklin does not keep track of traffic numbers at the intersection, but each week about 8,400 cars travel through the intersection of Main Street and Circle Drive three blocks away, Collins said. At the intersection of Whiteland Road and County Road 144, where the county built its most recent roundabout, about 10,000 vehicles travel through the intersection per day.

The city is considering the roundabout because of the dangerous way the intersection is laid out, McGuinness said.

“Of (residents) that I’ve talked to, I’ve had people say, ‘If you’re going to put a roundabout in, put it at that one,’” McGuinness said.

The roundabout would be part of construction already planned for the second phase of the North Main Street project to replace sewers between Graham Street and U.S. 31. That work is expected to cost $4.4 million, which would include the cost of the roundabout, Crossroads Engineers Vice President Trent Newport said.

State funds will pay for 80 percent of the total, and the Franklin Redevelopment Commission intends to pay the other 20 percent, commission member Bob Heuchan said. The commission has not approved paying for the project yet, Heuchan said.

Engineers have estimated buying all the land needed for the project would cost $400,000. The redevelopment commission will have final say about how much they are willing to spend if the cost is more than that amount, McGuinness said.

The Village Pantry, at 927 Walnut St., is the only business that would have to be torn down for the project. The building’s owner is interested in selling the building, but he has not yet given the city a price, Newport said.

If the land costs too much, the city may decide not to build the roundabout, McGuinness said.

“It all comes down to the expense of it. I’m prepared to go either way,” McGuinness said.

Engineers are currently designing the North Main Street project with the roundabout, and city officials should make a final decision about the roundabout by summer, Newport said.

Residents and business owners will be able to discuss the roundabout and the project’s designs at two public meetings this spring. The Franklin Board of Works would have to approve the designs.

Construction workers will finish replacing sewers for the first phase of the North Main Street project, between Jefferson and Graham streets, by the end of the year. Work will start on the second phase, which would include the intersection where the roundabout is planned, in spring 2014.

If the roundabout is not included, the city plans to consider other improvements at the five-way intersection, such as putting in a new stoplight, McGuinness said.

Newport and city officials say the roundabout is the best option for the intersection. It would prevent blind spots by allowing motorists to look in only one direction for oncoming traffic instead of five.

Currently, motorists can get into accidents when they don’t see traffic coming from one of the four other directions, McGuinness said.

Motorists can also end up sitting at the stoplight at the intersection for a few minutes, because the stoplight does not have sensors that know when cars are there, McGuinness said.

“I do believe that is an intersection that is dangerous. It can be confusing. And if you get stuck at the light there, you sit there for quite a while. It is an intersection that is difficult all the way around,” McGuinness said.

The city could put in a new stoplight with sensors if it does not build a roundabout, so that motorists would not have to wait as long at the light. But Street Commissioner Ron Collins said the sensors would be hard to time because of the five different roads and the new equipment would cost money to buy and maintain.

Collins said the intersection also does not get enough traffic to warrant the updated equipment. The intersection used to have more traffic when Franklin Community High School was located nearby, but now that the high school has moved, the area has fewer cars, McGuinness said.

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