By EMILY R. WEST
In a 5-2 vote on Tuesday night, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Alderman decided to enter into an agreement that could result in $10 million in grant funding to expand McEwen Drive.
However, seeking the grant funding and potentially saving $10 million in city tax dollars didn’t come with much excitement from a crowded board room. Residents from Ward One –– many of whom regularly use the narrow, curvy road –– wanted to see it funded now. Accepting federal funding could mean the project is pushed back a few months to a year and a half.
Franklin’s Jill Wood sat particularly frustrated. After surviving a head-on collision on McEwen in 2015, she knows first hand the potential dangers of the two-lane road. She suffered 11 major injuries from the crash, one including the vertebra in her neck.
“I can turn my head 20 percent each way,” she said, as she demonstrated for the board. “And this is the condition I am in forever.”
The cost of the project
To begin with, the project is not cheap.
McEwen Drive’s expansion has been in Franklin’s pipeline for a decade. But within the last five years, the city has invested $11.1 million in construction costs to upgrade McEwen. The estimated cost of Phase Four construction is $22.6 million.
In 2015, aldermen approved a new professional services agreement with SEI to provide final right-of-way and construction documents for the project. As of now, the design is near completion.
According to the capital planning document, Phase Four takes McEwen Drive from one lane to two between the roundabout at Cool Springs Boulevard/Oxford Glen Drive to Wilson Pike (SR-252). The construction will include lanes, streetlights, curbs, gutters and pedestrian access.
Weighing the cost
It was an easy decision for Ward One’s Bev Burger.
From her perspective, she had supported funding for other projects in wards different than her own. She didn’t see the McEwen expansion any differently. She said she took “a lot of heat” for supporting funds to expand South Carothers.
“I stood with my colleagues because it was the right thing to do,” Burger said.
She and Ward Two’s Dana McLendon were the only two who voted against accepting the federal funding for the project because they didn’t want the delay that could come with that route.
“I can’t make decisions on the parade on worst case scenarios,” he said. “But I also looked at that list of other projects that will be pushed down the road a bit if we didn’t take this money. I didn’t see one that struck me as critical as this one. It’s not the first time I will have voted to turn down state or federal money, and it’s not that those other projects aren’t important. They are traffic solutions, no question about that. But 20 documented wrecks in 12 months and 50 documented wrecks in 36 months is an alarming number.”
Other aldermen argued that they had to look at the bigger vision for the entire city. Spending $10 million here on this project could take away fundings from other projects in the capital improvement plans.
“I will support taking the $10 million, not because I think that lives are not worth what they should be,” Ward Four Alderman Margaret Martin said. “As aldermen, we have to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers, and I have heard from many that we will look at this as an overall picture.”
At-Large Alderman Brandy Blanton was absent from the vote.