PHOTO: Main Street, which turns into Franklin Road, is blocked off for pedestrian use each year for Pilgrimage Festival. Road improvements will be made north of the bridge to widen the street and add sidewalks./Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
Neighbors along Franklin Road want long-promised road improvements, but some say design tweaks need to be made to prevent the destruction of old trees.
The $14 million city project will widen the road and put sidewalks in from the bridge across the Harpeth to Harpeth Industrial Court, connecting Harlinsdale Farm and the Factory to downtown Franklin.
While the 33 neighbors directly affected by the construction want the improvements, some voiced concerns about the uprooting of 32 trees at a city work session Tuesday night.
City Engineering Director Paul Holzen said the road would be widened to three lanes, with a center turn lane.
A wide outside lane will accommodate bikes and vehicles, and a seven-feet wide sidewalk will run up to Liberty Pike, turning into a grass strip and sidewalk up to Harpeth Industrial Court.
Out of 13 right-of-way offers, the city has so far procured seven properties.
Holzen said he and city staff met with 13 property owners on September 6 who were concerned about the look and feel of the project.
Tearing up the road to lay utilities and grade roads will likely kill several trees, said Holzen.
“I want to be clear: any major redesign of the utilities, in our opinion, is, at a minimum, a six-month delay,” Holzen said. “Any major redesign with the roadway typical section is going to result in an 18-month delay on the project, that would cost us anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000 dollars, easily.”
But relocating utilities into the road could help minimize the impact on tree destruction. Holzen estimated that this would save a maximum of 12 trees. It would be a “major revision,” he said, with both a road and utility redesign.
“We’ve worked diligently for years and years and years on this design,” said Ward 4 Alderman Margaret Martin, who called the project her “number one priority since I’ve been on the board.”
“Lord knows, after this weekend, everybody knows that we need that connection from downtown to that area on both sides of the street,” she said, referring to the evacuations and eventual cancellation of Pilgrimage Festival due to weather.
Martin said she understood the pain of removing a beautiful tree after having to take out a dead one in her yard recently. “Nobody loves trees better than I, but we do have to sacrifice something.”
After hearing from the majority of the 33 residents about the project, “Most of them are horrified, as I am, that one more minute might be added to the development of this project,” Martin added.
Martin said she supports the project going forward as is. “It’s going to be difficult, and I will come and hold your hand while we go through it,” she finished. “But it must be done, and when it’s finished, I promise you, you will love it.”
Residents voice concerns
Resident Karen Adamson said walkability is important to her, “but I also don’t want the road to turn into what feels like might be a suburban highway into downtown Franklin.”
“All we’ve asked is to work a little more closely with the city to understand really what their plans are, why they need that extra 20 feet of easement, and if there are ways we can minimize the impact,” she said.
“Everybody is pro-sidewalks,” added her husband, Blair Adamson. “As always, the devil’s in the details.”
He continued, saying the city risks losing the historic artery to downtown, safety on the road, and additional dollars on the project.
Adamson asked city leaders to meet again with residents before moving forward with the road design concept.
“A lot of this work can be done in parallel path, so there’s not reason to delay,” he finished.
DJ Davis, who has been a Franklin resident for two decades, noted the 30-foot easement the city was trying to acquire from her property was 20 feet more than a 2014 plan had called for.
“One of the only living witnesses to the Battle of Franklin is slated to be coming down,” she said, referring to a tree on her property.
“Everybody acknowledges, and the engineers as well, that this is the first major project of its type in the historic overlay,” Davis said. “All we’re asking for is the fact that the city puts a priority on the historic feel of this community and the fact that these trees are important.”