Franklin to pay $1.2M more for inflation-impacted US 31 project

Inflation is felt at the grocery store, the gas pump and even in road projects.

Franklin officials are now saying inflation is behind why the city is being asked to pay $1.2 million more for the U.S. 31 project that will reshape the key corridor through the city. This brings the total city contribution to nearly $4.4 million for the total estimated $62.1 million project.

The Franklin City Council and Board of Public Works and Safety approved paying the additional amount and amending the original agreement between the city and the Indiana Department of Transportation to share financial responsibility for the project on Monday. The additional amount is being paid with part of the city’s allotment of funds from the county’s economic development income tax, or EDIT.

The city’s Redevelopment Commission must also sign off on the agreement later this month, though the additional $1.2 million is not from their coffers. The RDC is involved because the initially agreed-upon amount of $3.2 million for the design of the project is being paid by the commission.

When INDOT brought the project to redesign U.S. 31 to city officials years ago, the city took the opportunity to have a stake in the conversation. Local and state officials agreed that the city would pay for the design of the project and in exchange the project would incorporate the city’s goals to make U.S. 31 more walkable and connect the key commercial corridor to downtown, said Mayor Steve Barnett.

However, due to the increased cost of the project, the city has been asked to pay money toward construction costs.

The total cost has ballooned to an expected $62.076 million from the previously anticipated $48.481 million. The city has been told the cost increases are due to inflationary price increases for materials and difficulty securing certain materials for the project, said Mark Richards, city engineer.

Though it isn’t ideal to contribute more money, Barnett said the city is still walking away with a good deal. The city’s contribution to the project is about 7% of the entire cost and less than how much it would be for the city to independently build pedestrian paths along U.S. 31. For the five-mile stretch of walkway alone — without engineering or right of way acquisition costs — would be $5 to $6 million, Barnett said.

INDOT was originally asking the city to contribute more but a compromise was reached at $1.2 million, said Lynn Gray, city attorney. The amount reflects a portion of the $13.504 million increase in construction costs, she said.

The cost of the city’s contribution could go up if there are change orders that increase costs. However, city officials will be able to negotiate increases as they come up, Gray said.

The project was originally going to start in 2023, but it was pushed back to 2025 due to difficulty securing right of way, INDOT previously told the Daily Journal. As of now, the project is going to bid in December of this year, Richards said.

With the phasing INDOT has outlined, the project would now be complete by 2030.

The project’s purposes is to reduce congestion, improve traffic flow, improve pedestrian connectivity and increase safety along the thoroughfare. It was determined through data and computer modeling that the elimination of left turns and through movements at several intersections would reduce the number and severity of crashes in Franklin, INDOT officials say.

INDOT’s plans for U.S. 31 will mostly remove the ability to cut directly across U.S. 31 which state officials say have been the source of many accidents. The project would construct a long series of reduced conflict intersections on the five-mile stretch between South Main Street and the area just north of Israel Lane.

Jefferson Street and Commerce Drive are the only streets that will have cross traffic flowing between all lanes of U.S. 31, due to the volume of traffic those streets have. Four new types of intersections will be installed to reduce “conflict points” or ways that motorists can get into an accident, INDOT officials say.

Nearly 70 % of the intersections will use a traffic signal to control movement from the U-turn lane. Non-signalized intersections will be positioned in more rural areas where traffic will be lighter, project plans show.

Some signals that control all lanes of traffic will remain on U.S. 31 but will be reduced with a focus on controlling the flow of traffic from the U-tun lane and either the northbound or southbound lanes of traffic individually. The signals are being changed to optimize traffic flow, INDOT officials say.

Replacement of the box culvert at Canary Ditch is also planned, and the bridges over Canary Ditch and Youngs Creek will be widened to accommodate a multi-use path. The pedestrian walkway will be either a six-foot concrete sidewalk or a 10-foot asphalt trail for the length of the project. Sidewalks over the two bridges along U.S. 31 will be raised above the roadbed, similar to the bridge over Youngs Creek on Main Street, project plans show.

Walkways will be constructed on both sides of the highway and will be accompanied by crosswalks, ADA-compliant curb ramps, and lighting all along the path. Landscaping will be incorporated in select areas, INDOT officials say.