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Franklin to spend $1.2 million designing S.R. 44 project

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Franklin plans to spend $1.2 million on the first phase of a three-year project to rebuild State Road 44.

The entire project, which will reconstruct the roadway, rebuild or add sidewalks and install decorative lighting and landscaping from just west of U.S. 31 to Eastview Drive, is estimated to cost $15.4 million. The work is expected to begin by summer 2015 and last through 2017.

But before that can be done, the city must pay for environmental testing required by the state, draw technical designs for each part of the project and get approval from the Indiana Department of Transportation. The city board of works approved the $1.2 million contract with CrossRoad Engineers, which will design the improvements planned from the Johnson County fairground entrance west of U.S. 31 to Eastview Drive.

Money for the contract is planned to come out of the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside property tax dollars from certain companies for economic development. Those funds also will be used to pay for some of the construction costs, since $15 million in state grants the city is receiving for taking ownership of State Road 44 won’t be available until 2016.

Originally, the state hadn’t planned to work on State Road 44 until 2017, and that project would have been for only road repairs and not included sidewalks or other decorative features. The city will take over ownership of State Road 44 later this year as part of an agreement with the state. The deal allows Franklin to fast-track repairs and to divide the project into smaller sections. That means all of Jefferson and King streets won’t need to be closed for months, limiting access to downtown businesses and homes.

Construction on the section west of U.S. 31 near the Johnson County fairgrounds is expected to start next year. U.S. 31 to Crowell Street, near the railroad tracks, would be rebuilt in 2016, and Crowell Street to Eastview Drive will be done in 2017. Future improvements from Eastview Drive to Interstate 65 would take place in 2018, but the city is still deciding what scope of work will be done. The city is conducting a study to get an idea of how much traffic gets off the interstate in Franklin and how many trucks use the intersection at Eastview Drive, which will help determine what work should be done, city engineer Travis Underhill said.

The first $1.2 million the city is spending will pay to design the new road, purchase any land needed for the improvements, conduct environmental studies, complete land surveys and plan landscaping. Much of that work needs to be completed this year so the city can start on the first phase of construction in summer 2015.

“The work is spread out over a three-year period. Our involvement will be right up until the construction of Eastview,” CrossRoad Engineers vice president Trent Newport said. “The work will begin virtually immediately.”

Prep work such as land surveys and environmental testing need to be completed before the city can start sending project designs to the state for review, Newport said. Environmental testing takes about a year to complete, so it needs to start now since construction is slated to begin in 16 months.

Engineers will design the first phase of the project on Jefferson Street from about the fairgrounds entrance to U.S. 31 and then design later phases while construction is going on, Newport said. A total of $544,000 of the overall contract will be spent designing the roadway, which will be torn out and rebuilt along the entire route.

The city is saving some money because engineers will be able to reuse initial surveys and conceptual designs on the streetscape, which includes new sidewalks and decorative lighting and landscaping, Newport said.

The contract also includes about $200,000 to buy land that will be needed to build sidewalks or place light fixtures. Since the road and sidewalks are already built through the downtown, most of the land the city will need to purchase likely would be east of Forsythe Street, where sidewalks stop, Newport said.

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