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Franklin takes control of highway through city

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If you’re tired of hitting potholes on State Road 44 or squeezing past large trucks in downtown Franklin, you can call the city about those problems.

Starting today, State Road 44 from State Road 144 to Interstate 65 is no longer a state highway. Although the road signs likely won’t come down for a few weeks, Franklin now officially owns the road and is responsible for all maintenance.

That means those potholes on Jefferson Street will be fixed by the city, with work beginning this summer. Trucks passing through downtown will be rerouted around the north side or could be ticketed starting in June or July. City officials also can plan road and sidewalk improvements around the I-65 exit, with the goal of making the area more attractive to developers that might want to build a restaurant, hotel or shopping center.

Owning Jefferson Street and East King Street will allow the city to rebuild the road and sidewalks similar to what’s been done on North Main Street. The city plans to spend about $20 million on road work, which will extend from the Johnson County fairgrounds entrance west of U.S. 31 to I-65. That work will be paid for with about $15 million in grants as well as local tax dollars.

After that work is done, the city can keep the road in good shape by filling cracks and resealing the road to prevent it from deteriorating, city engineer Travis Underhill said.

Now, if you see a problem on the road or hit a particularly deep pothole, the city won’t just forward your complaint to the state. City street workers will get out there and fix it, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

Drivers likely won’t notice any difference on Jefferson and King streets immediately, but the city’s top priority is to fix the worst of the potholes, cracks and lumpy pavement on the streets.

“It’s down to crumbling brick. We can continue to throw patch at it and hope it sticks, or we can fix it the right way,” McGuinness said.

The city is pricing repairs, including milling off the top of the road and repaving, for two sections from U.S. 31 to Walnut Street west of downtown, and from the railroad tracks on Jefferson Street to east of the King and Forsythe streets intersection, Underhill said. The state is paying the city a one-time $80,000 stipend for maintenance before it pays Franklin more than $12 million for taking over the road.

‘20 times better’

The planned repairs could be completed within a few days and lead to some detours. When the work is done, the road should be about as smooth as any other newly paved street in the city, McGuinness said.

“It will be 10 times, probably even 20 times better than it is now,” he said.

The city plans to tear out and rebuild Jefferson Street in 2016 and 2017, which means the new pavement would be destroyed within two or three years. But the road likely wouldn’t survive until that major project without a short-term fix, and the city has heard enough complaints to make fixing the road now worth the price, McGuinness said.

Another big change will be rerouting most trucks out of the downtown. Semitrailer rig drivers frequently use State Road 44 to get from I-65 to U.S. 31 to make deliveries to local manufacturers or retail stores. Those trucks not only create a safety hazard for pedestrians and drivers on narrow Jefferson Street downtown, but their weight has caused additional damage to the road, Underhill said.

Police will begin watching for trucks that aren’t following the city truck route, which will force any truck not making a delivery downtown to head up Eastview, Arvin and Commerce drives to U.S. 31. During the next 60 days, the city will put up signs informing truck drivers about the route, while also reworking city rules to increase the current $100 fine for traveling through downtown to U.S. 31, McGuinness said.

Enticing travelers

Within the next 45 to 60 days, police could begin stopping trucks and handing out warnings if the drivers are not using the truck route. After that, officers could start giving out tickets for $250 or higher to truck drivers violating the rule, McGuinness said.

This May, the city plans to hire an engineering firm to study intersections at Upper Shelbyville Road, Hurricane Road, Commerce Drive and Graham Road to help determine what improvements are needed, such as road widening, new crosswalks for sidewalks or trails or new pavement. The city hopes to get more federal grant money to help with those projects, which were originally estimated to cost more than $1 million each.

Part of the design will be based on traffic statistics about how many vehicles and trucks travel on King Street between the interstate and Eastview Drive. A traffic engineer put counters down on that stretch of road this spring, which will show how many trucks will be rerouted up Eastview Drive along the truck route, and give city officials a better idea of how many commuters are going to and from the interstate, McGuinness said.

The city plans to do road and sidewalk improvements along that corridor in 2018 but hasn’t decided on what will be done. One goal of the work will be to spark new development and make the area around the interstate more attractive to encourage more travelers to pull off at Franklin and come downtown, he said.

“What kind of roadway and services can we add over here and make it attractive to a hotel or restaurant or market?” McGuinness asked. “If you’re coming off the interstate, I want you to see some shops and restaurants and stop here.”

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