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Welcome to Blockade Franklin: Meeting discusses delays in Mack Hatcher construction

The first 50 people who attended a meeting at Pearre Creek Elementary between Westhaven residents and TDOT Commissioner, John Schroer Tuesday received a T-shirt that read, "Get Mack back on track." More than 350 attended. Carole Robinson


For residents in Williamson County who encounter daily rush hour standstill traffic on area roads, the “Welcome to Franklin” sign should read, “Welcome to Blockade Franklin,” said Westhaven resident Charlie Grimes.
Residents of the Westhaven community, now at 1,032 homeowners since Southern Land began the development in 2000, voiced frustration this week with traffic congestion on Highway 96 West and throughout Franklin.
Looking for answers to why a planned and designed extension of Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway from Hillsboro Road to Highway 96 is not on the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s three-year plan, Westhaven residents contacted State Rep. Jeremy Durham, who arranged a meeting with TDOT Commissioner John Schroer, a Franklin resident and former mayor.
More than 350 residents filled the multi-purpose room at Pearre Creek Elementary Tuesday night to listen to Commissioner Schroer’ field questions.
“It all boils down, he said, to money and priorities. 
TDOT’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, and only $374 million can be used for discretionary spending,” he said.
 “…I inherited a backlog of $8 billion,” Schroer said of existing road projects requiring discretionary funding statewide.
Projects are considered based on safety, congestion and economic development, he explained. 
The Mack Hatcher extension is related to correcting a safety issue, but there have not been any traffic-related deaths on Highway 96West.
“There is not a lot of economic development tied in with that section of Mack Hatcher,” he said.
Schroer then listed the more than $250 million worth of state projects that Williamson County has received including the completion of SR 840 at a cost of $127 million; the widening of Interstate 65, costing $104 million and Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway from Highway 31 to Highway 96 at a cost of $29 million. 
“We have spent a lot of money in Williamson County,” he said.
Schroer provided renderings and a description of the project, which featured a schematic of the Mack Hatcher extension design and plan developed in 2009 by a multi-faceted committee made up of county and city officials, as well as community members.
As designed, the four-lane highway had two major bridges and two roundabouts, a multi-modal path for walking and bicycling, a raised median with a curved gutter, sidewalks and river access, with a cost of $80 million.
“I am familiar with the project,” he said. “I was in on the planning, but I also said, ‘It was a little over the top. If I had to pay for this with city money, I would vote no,” Schroer told the audience.
He did vote for the City of Franklin to spend $5 million on design plans and the purchase of land and rights of way along the route. The state spent an additional $6.5 million.
“I was and I am an advocate of this road,” Schroer said. However, “I have to have the money before I build a road, and we can’t afford $80 million for a road like this. I know how important this road is to Franklin but I have obligations across the state.”
To get this complete the project, Schroer suggested examining other options, he added.
Working with his staff, as well as Durham, Sen. Jack Johnson and Rep. Charles Sargent, the Commissioner said he had identified some options. 
Building the extension initially as a two-lane highway, which he said is similar to how other sections of the Mack Hatcher were constructed is the first option to consider.
Additionally, he advocated scaling back road amenities.
Schroer estimated the cost could be reduced to $22.7 million with a construction timeframe of about two years. 
He noted that when the additional lanes are built in the future the cost estimate is $16 million. He said the future expansion could be built without impacting traffic.
“The pretty parts will be the responsibility of the City if they want it,” he said. “My job is to get cars up and down roads. What I don’t spend here, I can spend someplace else.”
Options are on the table and ideas are being considered, but Schroer would not commit to a timetable for the road’s expansion.
“As soon as I can afford it, we will do it in condensed versions,” he said.
When the meeting ended, Drew Robison and his family, who have lived in Westhaven for only a couple of years provided their reaction to the meeting.
“The meeting was more educational,” Robison said. “I just learned a lot about the decision-making process. I feel like I am more informed. I’m eager to see the project get done, but I’m not at a high frustration level.” 
John Fraser has lived in Williamson County for 10 years. He said he is fast approaching the frustration level. He offered an option to construct more turn-lanes on Highway 96 as a temporary measure.
“This turn lane thing makes sense and has nothing to do with Mack Hatcher,” Fraser said.

Posted on: 11/7/2013


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