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Work on Franklin’s new roundabout smoothing out

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A mound of dirt in the center of Franklin’s new roundabout will get lower when the project is finished, but drivers shouldn’t expect it to be low enough to see across the intersection.

The dirt that will remain and the shrubs, trees and flowers that will be planted will be tall enough to block your view across the central island, and that’s intentional. At a roundabout, blocking a driver’s view actually makes the intersection safer, project engineers said.

Currently several feet of dirt are piled up in the center of the roundabout, which is expected to be complete before school starts on Aug. 6.

Workers still have to remove about 2 feet of dirt from the pile, which would leave the center of the roundabout about 3 or 4 feet tall, CrossRoad Engineers vice president Trent Newport said.

That will be a little taller than roundabouts on Whiteland Road or on Greenwood streets, city engineer Travis Underhill said. But because the roundabout is in a residential area and near a school, the extra height will cause drivers to slow down more, which will make the roundabout safer for pedestrians, he said.

The Franklin roundabout won’t be much different from other roundabouts, except that it is more egg-shaped than a typical four-way intersection, Newport said. The roundabout is in an urban area, so the slope to the intersection is different from those in rural areas. The Franklin roundabout also is on a hill and will look taller from certain angles, Underhill said.

City council members and residents are questioning whether the elevated roundabout will confuse drivers, since others in Johnson County and in other communities are flatter and easier to see around. Council members Steve Barnett, Rob Henderson and Richard Wertz said they’ve been asked by about 10 business owners and residents about how tall the roundabout will be.

“I don’t think it will be a concern once we get the dirt down and put the bushes back in and people see what is going to be the total height. Hopefully we’ve addressed everybody’s concern,” Newport said.

Dr. E. Curtis Harris, who runs a chiropractic office at the intersection, first questioned the roundabout when crews had mounded up about 10 feet of dirt in the middle of the circle. The mound has been getting shorter, and he was told there’s still more to go, so he’s not as concerned about the finished intersection.

But the initial, giant dirt mound did look odd, and his wife joked that kids would be sledding on it in winter, he said.

“My initial concern was that I couldn’t even see the houses across the street, much less a car,” Harris said.

Workers pile the dirt in the middle of the roundabout during construction because it’s easier to remove once the concrete and asphalt work is done than it is to truck more in as it is needed during construction, Underhill said. The dirt also is used to provide part of a base layer under the new road, which is why the mound is much smaller than it was.

Rainy weather delayed the project, so crews are focusing on getting the intersection open before the first day of school, so buses and drivers can access the back entrance to Northwood Elementary School, Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Removing the excess dirt is a lower priority right now, so the higher mound might be there for a few days after the intersection opens, he said.

“We do have school buses, we do have neighbors, we do have drivers that would like to use that intersection,” McGuinness said.

After the dirt mound is removed, the city plans to landscape the roundabout with shrubs, flowers or trees that also will obstruct a driver’s view, Newport said.

When drivers enter a roundabout, they’re always going to turn to the right. That means drivers should be focusing their attention on who is coming from the left and not cars entering from other streets or driving on the other side of the intersection.

Drivers are also more likely to go slowly, Newport said. Many roundabouts are built with some feature in the middle, such as trees, tall grasses or shrubs or decorative bricks or concrete, for that reason, he added.

“Putting something that’s a visual barrier in the middle, the first thing and what generally happens to a driver as they notice something, they take their foot off the pedal and slow down,” Newport said.

Since the roundabout on North Main Street is the city’s first on a highly traveled road, city officials are hosting an educational meeting on Wednesday. Engineers will give a short explanation about why roundabouts are safer and how to drive through one and answer any questions residents may have, Newport said.

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