About 50 people attended the final open house input session last week for the town’s proposed Franklin Bike Walk Plan, which is being funded by a $36,000 North Carolina Department of Transportation grant.
The town’s engineering team — JM Teague Engineering of Waynesville — presented a list of projects based on the last few months’ worth of public input that aim to improve sidewalks, pedestrian crosswalks and greenway trails throughout Franklin.
Transportation Engineer Reuben Moore said the long list of potential projects was ranked using a point system. While there are more than 40 projects in the database, the project team is going to focus on the top 10 and look at the second tier of projects for more long-term planning purposes.
“Project ranking ranged from 23 points up to 80 points — so it was a good spread that helped us discriminate between good projects and great projects,” Moore said.
The No. 1 ranked project would be a DOT improvement program to construct a several-mile looped sidewalk from West Palmer Street out to Murphy Road near Kmart, connecting to Georgia Road before looping back to West Palmer Street.
Moore said the project would likely be the most expensive but no cost estimates have been provided at this time.
Another high-ranking project would create some more connectivity with the Little Tennessee Greenway by building a boardwalk-like path over a marshy area west of Big Bear Park and more sidewalks to run through town — hopefully following Crawford Branch back toward Memorial Park.
Other projects included connecting pieces of sidewalks near the intersection of Palmer and Porter streets and on Highlands Road. Georgia Road also has several opportunities for more sidewalk projects and narrowing the traffic lanes to make room for bike lanes, Moore said.
“We’re also reviewing all existing bike routes in Franklin — some have been in place for 15 years and signs are missing,” Moore said. “We need to reinstall warning signs and ‘share the road’ signs for bicyclists on five or six routes in Franklin.”
Most of the proposed projects would make it easier for people to walk or bike through town without having to navigate crumbling sidewalks that cross the street over to where no sidewalk exists at all. The disjointed infrastructure can be confusing for tourists not familiar with town and creates safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists.
Final recommended projects still have to be vetted through the community steering committee, and JM Teague engineers have to polish up the final report before submitting it for NCDOT review. Moore said he hopes to present the final report and presentation to the town board during its October meeting.
After that, the town can begin to seek funding for certain projects, but having the plan in place is the first step. The Franklin Bike Walk Plan is just one thing the town board and staff is working on to make Franklin an outdoor destination. With its Appalachian Trail town designation and being voted “Top Small Town” by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine, the town wants to be accommodating for its outdoorsy guests and also improve quality of life for its residents.
Though this was the last open house planned, it isn’t too late to offer feedback on the proposed projects. Residents are encouraged to complete an online survey that will allow the transportation planners to prioritize the needs in Franklin. More than 300 people have already completed the survey and it is still available at www.bikewalkfranklin.wordpress.com.