Franklin schools, city plan future roundabout

Next school year may be the last year parents and students driving to and from Franklin Community High School have to endure traffic backups.

While school bus drivers use Branigan Road to get to the high school’s campus, parent and student drivers are told to access campus via Commerce Drive, which has a four-way stop at the intersection with Cumberland Drive and Simon Road. With a roundabout, thru traffic on Commerce Drive would be able to avoid school traffic, which would in turn be lessened due to the elimination of stop signs, said Trent Newport, president of Beech Grove-based engineering consultant CrossRoad Engineers.

CrossRoad has designed other roundabouts in Franklin, including one on North Main Street and Eastview Drive, another at State Road 144 and State Road 44, and another at King Street and Eastview Drive. The Commerce Drive roundabout will cost about $1.5 million, he said.

“This is an intersection that during the morning and evenings gets busy and backed up,” Newport said. “We’ve worked on a lot of roundabouts across the state like that, and it creates a safe, more efficient intersection. We’re completing a field survey, going from the conceptual design to the actual design and looking at impacts. The design would probably be complete in 2022.”

After the design is complete, the project will go up for construction bids. The selected construction company will likely start the work in the summer of 2023, when school is out of session, he said.

The Franklin Board of Works approved the design contract in August. The money for the project will come from funds stemming from the city’s tax-increment financing (TIF) district. The city paid CrossRoad $371,375 for the design, said Mark Richards, city engineer for Franklin.

“There’s been discussion about access to the high school from Commerce Drive. It’s an issue we’ve been aware of for a couple of years, and it continues to get worse as traffic backs up during the morning hours when kids are coming to school, and in the afternoon when they’re leaving,” Richards said.

While the city of Franklin has the ability to apply for federal funds or money from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, doing so could draw out the project until 2025, so the city wants a quicker solution. To fund the project, the city needs to make sure it has enough money in the TIF, which is why they’re waiting until 2023, he said.

In January of 2023, the city can apply for a matching grant through the Indiana Department of Transportation, which could cover some of the costs.

To facilitate the project, Franklin schools will give the city of Franklin part of its right-of-way, said Jeff Sewell, the district’s operations director.

“(The city) approached me about the concept and wondered if the schools would be interested in providing some of the right-of-way. It’s certainly going to help us,” Sewell said. “It will allow traffic at that intersection to clear or move through (more) efficiently if they’re not going to the school.”