Local officials hear update on Highway 23 study

MARSHALL – While the final recommendations of a study being conducted on the Minnesota Highway 23 corridor in Marshall are still a ways off, consultants said Wednesday there are some early possibilities that could be considered to improve safety at intersections with the highway. Those improvements could include anything from closing down or realigning some existing intersections, to adding more “J-turn” style intersections along Highway 23.

Members of the Minnesota Department of Transportation and SRF Consulting Group met with Marshall City Council members and Lyon County commissioners on Wednesday afternoon to give an update on the ongoing safety assessment. Local officials also gave their feedback on the assessment so far.

A lot of the information being presented Wednesday was the same as what was presented at a public open house in April, said Leif Garnass of SRF Consulting. Based on a review of traffic patterns and crash data for the Highway 23 corridor in Marshall, the study was able to identify peak traffic times, as well as intersections with a higher number of crashes.

Based on data from 2010 to 2014, the peak traffic time on Highway 23 in Marshall is around 7:45 a.m. During that same time period of 2010 to 2014, a higher number of crashes were reported at the intersections of Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 7, Saratoga Street, U.S. Highway 59, Minnesota Highway 19 and East Lyon Street.

Garnass said comments and concerns were also collected from area residents. Comments have included concerns about improving safety around school zones, improving access to Highway 23 and adding more acceleration lanes on Highway 23.

“That was a pretty common concern,” Garnass said. However, he said it’s also counterintuitive to another common concern, to lower speed limits on the highway in Marshall.

Garnass said the next steps in the safety assessment will involve using the collected data to develop possible strategies for improvement. Those strategies can include changes to landscaping, road design, signage and intersection control. Garnass presented local officials with some possibilities for each intersection with Highway 23 in Marshall, but he emphasized that the strategies were just in the draft phase.

Some of the possibilities for the intersection with Lyon County Road 7 included building an interchange, or moving the westbound lanes to create a wider median in the roadway. The longer distance might help alleviate safety hazards with vehicles “stacking” in the median while trying to cross Highway 23, Garnass said.

At the intersection Highway 23/Highway 19 intersection, Garnass said, it’s possible traffic safety could be improved by replacing turn lanes and yield signs with acceleration lanes. At both the Highway 19 and Highway 59 intersections, adjusting the length of traffic signals might also improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Reduced-conflict intersections or “J-turns” were a common possible safety improvement, suggested for several intersections in the Highway 23 corridor. Garnass said for some intersections, it might improve safety to create a partial J-turn, or restrict cross traffic from making left turns onto the highway. Some intersections, like the ones with Spruce Lane or O’Connell Street, could possibly be closed altogether.

The intersections of Highway 23 and East Lyon Street, and Highway 23 and Clarice Avenue, had more complex suggestions. Garnass said the two intersections could have separate safety measures put in place, or a new intersection could be built to replace the current East Lyon and Clarice Avenue intersections. That intersection could be located about halfway between the current East Lyon and Clarice intersections.

Garnass said he was surprised about the amount of concern area residents had about the East Lyon and Clarice Avenue intersections, especially since other, higher-traffic intersections are located nearby.

“It has many of the problems, in miniature, that Saratoga Street had,” said Marshall City Council member David Sturrock. The highway curves, making it harder to see oncoming traffic when crossing the highway.

Both Lyon County Commissioner Paul Graupmann and Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes asked if the study data showed any trends toward more or fewer crashes.

“Are we seeing driver behavior improving?” Byrnes said.

Garnass said he didn’t know the answer off the top of his head. However, he said, “We can certainly get that information.”

Lyon County Commissioner Charlie Sanow said he thought speeds on Highway 23 had slowed down last summer, but there was also increased presence from law enforcement.

Garnass said the safety assessment will continue over the summer, and there are more events planned for members of the public to learn about the project and give their feedback. The next event will be at the bike safety event at the Marshall Area YMCA on May 23.