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Rough road ahead for city?

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One of the main roads through Franklin is full of cracks, holes and rough patchwork, but major repairs aren’t scheduled for four years.

City officials fear heavily-traveled Jefferson Street won’t last that long and are looking at options to start work sooner.

One option could mean the city takes ownership of the road, also known as State Road 44, which means Franklin would be responsible for repairs and maintenance; but that would allow the city — not the state — to decide when and what kind of work can be done.

If the city owned the road, it also would speed up the timetable to complete a downtown streetscape project that would add new curbs, sidewalks, trees and lighting. City leaders fear a road project could damage the streetscape work, so the city wouldn’t start on the project until ownership and repairs of Jefferson Street are sorted out.

Other options include trying to get the state to bump repairs up on its schedule of projects or seeking a federal grant that would help pay for the project sooner.

The Indiana Department of Transportation schedules projects far in advance, and a reconstruction of Jefferson Street — similar to what is happening now on North Main Street — would not occur until 2017, city engineer Travis Underhill said.

He and other city officials, however, think that’s not soon enough.

“The bigger concern is that the road is not going to make it until 2017 in its current status,” Underhill said.

The city previously tried to work with the state to bump up a reconstruction project for Jefferson Street but didn’t make much progress, Underhill said. But recently he has been pushing INDOT to meet and discuss options with the city.

Mayor Joe McGuinness said the city would be open to owning the road, but he would want to ensure that the city would receive money to complete repairs now, as well as long term.

“I’m certainly open to those discussions. I think it would be prudent for me and the city to move forward with discussions about that and explore all our options. I’m looking out for our citizens and their dollars,” McGuinness said.

The state likely would provide some money up front in order to complete a reconstruction if the city takes ownership of the road. Then the additional road mileage the city would have with Jefferson Street would be factored into future calculations that determine how much local road funding the city gets from the state, McGuinness said.

The state occasionally transfers ownership of parts of state roads to cities or counties, said Greg Prince, INDOT media relations director for the Seymour District, which covers Franklin.

“It’s a win in a lot of ways for both the city and the state, because these transfers, they allow local agencies to be more responsive to community interests, not only in administration but in their planning and construction and improvements,” Prince said.

The city also wants to get an answer on what will happen with Jefferson Street because progress on the ongoing streetscape project downtown will have to be put on hold until that is decided.

That project will upgrade curbs and sidewalks as well as plant trees and install decorative lighting throughout the downtown. Improvements in the second and third phases of the project would be done along Jefferson Street and are estimated to cost a total of $5.3 million. Those projects will be paid for by the Franklin Redevelopment Commission, with funds from tax-increment financing districts, or TIF districts, in place throughout the city.

But officials don’t want to complete the project along Jefferson Street only to find out a year or two later the state is going to tear it up while replacing the road, McGuinness said.

Efforts to communicate with the state have been slow, since the local district recently had an administration change, Underhill said.

State officials are scheduled to meet with McGuinness next month. McGuinness said he feels the city and state are closer to working out an answer than they were last year.

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