Downtown Franklin business owners are looking forward to a freshly paved street, new sidewalks and light poles, and improved drainage.
But owners along North Main Street have grown impatient as the unpaved street has blocked access to their buildings and people avoid the area. Over the winter, rain and melted snow have turned the street into a muddy mess at times, and pedestrians struggle walking to businesses with sidewalks torn up or removed.
City officials say there isn’t much they can do to help until the spring, when asphalt plants reopen; and they have discouraged motorists from using the road until then.
The North Main Street project, split into two phases, will replace the sewer system and upgrade the street and sidewalks between Jefferson Street and U.S. 31.
WORK IN PROGRESS
What: North Main Street project
When it started: June 2012
Where it stands: Construction crews are replacing the drainage system under Main Street from north of Adams Street to Graham Street.
What’s next: After the drainage work is complete, construction workers will tear up the curbs, sidewalks and remaining asphalt between Madison and Graham streets. They will then put two layers of asphalt down on the entire section, replace the curbs and gutters, put a final layer of asphalt down and build new sidewalks.
When it will be completed: Construction is ahead of schedule and should be completed in November.
The goal of the project is to help with flooding in the area and to help redevelop the street, which is a main route into downtown Franklin.
Work on the first phase, between Jefferson and Graham streets, began in June 2012 and is on track to finish in November, six months ahead of schedule.
But as business owners wait for the improvements to be completed, they are left with a mud-covered roadway that has made access to their buildings difficult for customers, they said.
Construction workers have tried to keep as many intersections open as possible so that motorists can drive across the street, but they have not focused on making Main Street accessible and discourage people from using the street for now, project manager Adam Koontz said.
The city cannot pave the street right now because the asphalt plants they get material from are closed for the winter, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.
He thinks the city is fortunate to have part of the street done and most of the route open to traffic.
Some businesses owners along Main Street say they have been cut off from most traffic since the work began.
Imagination Station, a specialty toy store at Main and King streets, has had a 40 percent decrease in sales since construction on the North Main Street project started, manager Debi Pierson said.
Fewer people come into the store after driving by, and shoppers who do want to visit aren’t sure how to get there. The city has not posted detour signs to route motorists around the construction zone, and different streets are blocked off daily, Pierson said.
The city has posted updates about the project on its website, but Pierson said construction workers need to put up more signs to let motorists know where they can and can’t drive.
“No one is going to check a website before driving downtown. They want to know where they can go when they get there,” Pierson said.
Local attorney Erik Doll said people also have trouble walking around Main Street to get to different businesses because the street is unpaved and sidewalks are torn up. When it rains, he said, the area in front of his office at Main and King streets turns into a mud pit.
Flying Frog Bed and Breakfast owner Sharon Isselhardt said construction workers have been helpful in giving her information and moving equipment when she had guests coming in.
Earlier this year, Isselhardt said she asked the construction crew to hold off tearing up the sidewalk in front of her recently opened inn, because a tour group was supposed to come by that weekend, and the workers waited a few extra days.
“We’re not unhappy at all. They take us into consideration. They’re trying to take care of us, too, and not make us unhappy,” Isselhardt said.
Business owners, such as Pierson, think they will see more customers coming to their shops once the construction work is finished.
Workers will put down two layers of asphalt on the road within the next month or two, Koontz said.
The project also will include new curbs and gutters, sidewalks, landscaping and light poles, Koontz said.
All of the work should be done by November, street commissioner Ron Collins said.