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Roundabouts key to city’s plans to divert downtown truck traffic

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A 3.5-mile truck route on the perimeter of downtown Franklin will change the way semi drivers and motorists travel around the northeast side of the city.

The city plans to spend up to $1.6 million each at four intersections along a path that semis are required to take, instead of driving through downtown on Jefferson Street. One plan being considered now is replacing stop signs at those intersection with roundabouts.

Roundabouts move traffic more quickly, are safer for motorists and are more likely to be paid for with federal grants, which is why Franklin is considering them for four intersections along the truck route, city engineer Travis Underhill said. Other possibilities could include widening the intersections.

Now that Franklin owns Jefferson and King streets, formerly State Road 44, police can begin enforcing the city’s truck route, which directs semis coming from the interstate along Eastview, Arvin and Commerce drives to U.S. 31. The city has had that route in place for years but wasn’t able to enforce it because the city didn’t own State Road 44.

Since it plans to send more trucks along the route, Franklin needs to rebuild four intersections at Upper Shelbyville Road, Commerce Drive, Hurricane Road and Graham Road to be able to handle the additional semi traffic.

The city plans to hire a company this summer to examine each intersection and help determine what kind of improvements will be needed based on traffic counts and the size and condition of the intersection. The intersections can handle additional truck traffic now, but projects to widen and improve them would make each safer for drivers, as well as for cyclists and pedestrians, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

The cost to widen and rebuild intersections could be as high as $1.6 million each, and the city will continue to pursue federal grants, which typically pay for 80 percent of the cost. If the project is designed and the city commits money to do it, that can increase the chances of getting grants.

Ideally the city will spend only grant funds to complete the projects and not have to use local tax dollars, city officials said. The state is paying Franklin $12.8 million in two installments in 2016 and 2017 because the city took ownership of State Road 44. Although some of that money will be used for Jefferson and King street projects, including about $7.1 million for repairs from U.S. 31 to Eastview Drive, any remaining funds could be used on the truck route intersections.

The state also is funding roundabout projects more often because traffic data show vehicles get through intersections quicker and fewer accident occur, Underhill said.

“Any high-volume intersection is going to start looking at the possibility of a roundabout,” Underhill said. “We are probably going to look at roundabouts as a matter of funding and safety.”

Franklin is building its first roundabout on North Main Street this year, and the city has a possible one at Eastview Drive and King Street, although that project likely would be part of improvements planned for 2018. Whiteland is planning to build a roundabout at the high-traffic Whiteland and Graham roads intersection. And Greenwood wants to build six more roundabouts in the next six years, including one at Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road.

Franklin hasn’t set a schedule for any of the intersection improvements because the main focus for 2015 through 2017 will be rebuilding the roadway and sidewalks along Jefferson and King streets from west of U.S. 31 to Eastview Drive, McGuinness said.

Franklin might need to make more extensive improvements on the southern end of the truck route, such as at Hurricane Road, where the intersection is narrower and has buildings close to the roadway, or at Upper Shelbyville Road, which is near two schools and a new subdivision planned to be built this year, McGuinness said. The intersection at Graham Road is already wide and built for heavy truck traffic going to and from local factories, so installing a roundabout would be easier, Underhill said.

The roundabouts wouldn’t be any different from those drivers may already have encountered on the road, just bigger for semitrailers, Underhill said. The size could be similar to the roundabout at Whiteland Road and County Road 144 near Bargersville.

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