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OUR Franklin Blvd Makeover
Construction here, construction there - there really is construction everywhere! The major construction currently underway on Franklin Blvd., however, is more than just another street widening or city beautification project. This one has real history tied to it. It's also part of a bigger reconstruction project by the city-county collaborative "Blueprint 2000" called the "Capital Cascade Trail" Project. And it has some long-time locals as well as experts pretty upset about the renovation of the stream/ditch running down the middle of this popular artery through town in what is being called a "flood relief project." What seems to many of us to be just another drainage ditch in a very inconvenient location is actually the St. Augustine Branch, which has a long history of providing both usefulness and beauty to our town. But no matter how you view it or what you call it, by August 2012, this stream/ditch will be buried 6 feet underground, enclosed in a box culvert, or drainage channel, leading to Cascades Park. Some say it's a bit ironic that the City is spending tons of money to build Cascades Park, while also spending a ton more to cover up the only part of the cascades waterway that still exists. The project is funded in part by $4.2 million in federal disaster relief funds.
The final product of this project also will reduce Franklin Blvd. from four lanes to just two lanes and add pathways for pedestrians and bikes. If you've ever traveled this route during either morning or evening rush hour, it's difficult to image all that traffic squeezing through in just two lanes. Some say maybe this is a good thing and will help diminish the road's "speedway" appearance during busier times. However, it's also virtually impossible to traverse this route on foot or bicycle. Of course, there is the flooding risk to consider as well. Two 13-year-old boys drowned in the ditch in 1974 when they were sucked into it during a heavy rainstorm. In addition to making the roadway temporarily dangerous to travel or completely shut down, heavy rains also often turn the waterway into a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other unpleasantries. Other unsanitary behaviors such as using the area as a dumping ground or sewage outlet have also led to its demise.
So the divide within the community on this issue remains. Could the stream have been restored to its past beauty and some money spared while still providing a safe environment? Or is the stream's sacrifice a small and necessary price to pay to ensure the safety and utility of this important roadway?
Franklin Blvd. has long been in need of improvements because of high flooding risks in heavy rainstorms; difficulty navigating the awkward intersections around the large ditch; and declining aesthetics caused by illegal dumping, littering and sewage. The community has been divided on whether the focus should be to rebuild and protect the stream and provide a scenic pedestrian/bike path at the expense of a popular roadway, or to cover the ditch and improve the safety and utility of the roadway for both drivers and pedestrians/bicyclists. The road won and is being downsized to also accommodate pedestrians and bikes.