Franklin roundabout unlikely

Motorists in downtown Franklin might rest a little easier with the knowledge a roundabout will most likely not become part of their daily drive.

Franklin City Council members rehashed a months-old debate Monday surrounding a solution to the safety concerns at the intersection of 12th and Liberty streets. That debate can actually be traced back to 2004, said city manager Tracy Jamieson, when a blueprint study of the city was conducted and raised an initial red flag.

The conversation was resurrected, however, at a meeting in January in which PennDOT released the findings of its own study along with several options to make the intersection safer.

Those options included the unpopular roundabout.

“I went to Meadville over the weekend and almost saw about six accidents in their roundabout,” council member Donna Fletcher said during Monday’s discussion.

Fletcher said a roundabout isn’t a viable option due to the city’s aging population and general confusion surrounding the navigation of traffic circles.

“Unless you’re going to do a three-month education on how to use roundabouts, it’s not going to fly,” she said.

The Meadville roundabout, dubbed the Big Eye by PennDOT, has been referenced by many Franklin residents as a standard of why a roundabout is not for the city.

But Mike McMullen, a Franklin resident and former PennDOT engineer, said the Big Eye is not a good comparison for Franklin’s situation.

“Not all roundabouts are the same,” he said.

McMullen said there are seven roundabouts in northwest Pennsylvania, and the Big Eye is the biggest with two lanes that run one direction and a single lane in the other. He explained the rest are what residents could expect to be installed in Franklin with only a single lane in each direction.

While there are several positive aspects of installing a roundabout at the intersection – namely additional greenspace that would be added to Fountain Park, in front of the courthouse and Benjamin’s Roadhouse – the measure is the most expensive of the four options PennDOT initially presented coming in at around $1 million more than other solutions.

For that reason, as well as the general distaste of roundabouts, Jamieson told council that a steering committee comprised of city residents, bicyclists, a Franklin School Board member and downtown business owners had recommended a different solution.

The option would drop Liberty Street down from four lanes to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. This option, said Jamieson, has the added bonus of allowing for a bicycle lane on each side of the street.

“There’s so much real estate taken up by asphalt, in my opinion, we should add multiple modes of transportation,” said Jamieson.

Both Jamieson and McMullen told council this project would likely not break ground for two to five years, at the earliest, if PennDOT were to receive the added funding and permissions to add the project to its planned betterment project.

If that falls through, there’s no timeline for when the work would begin.

Council members weren’t asked to make a decision. Jamieson said she only wanted to be sure she had council’s “backing” when she next met with PennDOT engineers.