Marshall residents ask MnDOT to reconsider Lyon Street J-turn

MARSHALL — Earlier this year, Marshall got the news that more construction aimed at safety on Minnesota Highway 23 was planned for next year. But for some local residents and businesspeople, there are still questions on whether one planned safety project — a reduced conflict intersection at the intersection of Highway 23 and East Lyon Street — would be the best choice.

A group of Marshall residents and businesspeople met with staff at the Marshall office of the Minnesota Department of Transportation on Thursday to ask that a roundabout be built at the intersection instead.

Klein Foods owner Steve Klein said his and several other businesses and offices near the Highway 23/Lyon Street intersection have petitioned MnDOT to build a roundabout instead of a J-turn. The list of petitioners includes Henle Printing, Hamilton Funeral Home, AmericInn, Affiliated Community Medical Centers, the Marshall public defender’s office, and others.

The petition was given to MnDOT representatives at a July 19 open house, Klein said.

At Thursday’s meeting with MnDOT staff, Klein said he attended previous open house events during the process of the Highway 23 safety study and planning for the J-turns.

At those open houses, Klein said, “I don’t think anybody requested a J-turn at (the Lyon Street) corner.”

Roundabouts and J-turns were among the possibilities considered in a recent safety study for Highway 23 in Marshall. In March, MnDOT received funding to build two J-turns, one at Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 7, and one at East Lyon Street. A J-turn uses a system of turn lanes and special U-turn lanes, instead of allowing traffic to go straight through or make left turns across a divided highway.

Marshall residents said Thursday they were concerned a J-turn wouldn’t work at the Lyon Street intersection, that it could affect businesses in the neighborhood, or that it would pose its own safety risks.

Cecil Naatz, an attorney at the Marshall public defender’s office, said one “major concern” was the curve of Highway 23 near the Lyon Street intersection. Visibility and traffic speed near the intersection were both different than they were at the Saratoga Street intersection.

Naatz said in his experiences using reduced conflict intersections in other locations — like Cologne– the J-turns didn’t necessarily get traffic to slow down.

Ryan Barney, a MnDOT staff member working in project delivery, said MnDOT received a mix of positive and negative responses about building a J-turn at the Lyon Street intersection.

“We have had verbal comments on both sides,” whether they were for a J-turn or a roundabout, Barney said.

The factors considered for the intersection included both traffic safety and cost effectiveness, Barney said. A roundabout would be more costly than a J-turn and require more construction. At the same time, J-turns have been shown to reduce intersection crashes.

Klein said there was also the level of traffic in the Lyon Street area to consider. The Lyon Street intersection becomes very busy at certain times of the day because of Park Side School, he said, and there are also a number of businesses and the ACMC clinic bringing in traffic. If the school expands, or more commercial property is developed in the future, that traffic could increase.

Klein said the existing J-turn at Highway 23 and Saratoga Street was already having an impact on local school buses.

“We did learn that the school bus system will not use the J-turns,” Klein said.

Jim Hey, of Southwest Coaches, said Thursday that the bus company is not one of the businesses petitioning MnDOT for a roundabout at the Lyon Street intersection. However, he confirmed that Southwest Coaches’ school bus drivers are not using the J-turns at the Saratoga Street intersection.

“For us, they’re not safe,” Hey said. A combination of factors, including the angle of the turns and the length of the buses, mean drivers lose visibility while traveling through the J-turns, he said.

Hey said Southwest chooses to use alternate bus routes instead, although that does have an impact on the travel time and cost of the routes.

“We are concerned” about the plans to build more J-turns at the Lyon Street and County Road 7 intersections, Hey said.

There was one easy solution for safety concerns on Highway 23 in Marshall, Hey said — for traffic to slow down.

“It would eliminate a lot of the issue,” he said.

At Thursday’s meeting, Barney said MnDOT staff would take the group’s feedback into consideration. But he cautioned them that changing a J-turn to a roundabout could be difficult at this stage in the planning.

And if a change is made, it would likely take longer to build the roundabout, he said. The two J-turns being planned would be built in 2018.

“We’ll certainly have to take it all in,” Barney said of the group’s concerns.

Klein said he felt the meeting with MnDOT went well, although he wasn’t sure what the outcome would be at this stage in their planning process.

“I feel bad that we had not made the point clearly enough at the open houses,” Klein said. But at the same time, he said, the response to the petition showed that there was a lot of neighborhood concern about the plans for a J-turn.

Klein said the group planned to make a presentation to the Marshall School Board later this month about the possible safety concerns involving the J-turns.