MARSHALL - A group of Marshall residents opposed to the construction of a pedestrian overpass and traffic safety measures at the intersection of Saratoga Street and Minnesota Highway 23 spoke out again on Tuesday, this time at a meeting of the Marshall City Council. And though there were plenty of comments and questions from the public on the overpass project, members of the council both said they were in favor of the improvements and voted unanimously to approve a preliminary design for the overpass.
The 23/Saratoga project includes both an 1,800-foot pedestrian overpass on the west side of Saratoga Street and a "reduced conflict intersection" system on Highway 23. The reduced conflict intersection uses special turn lanes and U-turn lanes to cut down on the number of times a vehicle turning onto or off of Saratoga Street, or crossing Highway 23, has to deal with traffic approaching from the opposite direction.
The city of Marshall was awarded a $3.5 million state grant for the project last summer.
Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson said the study and planning process for safety improvements at the intersection "started back at least a decade ago." He said the city had considered options ranging from traffic signals at the intersection to an interchange or a vehicle overpass. The reduced conflict intersection/pedestrian overpass plan ended up being the most feasible option, he said.
Neighbors of the intersection, including Dave Bero, said they didn't think the reduced conflict intersection would work to prevent crashes. Lowering the speed limit on Highway 23 in town would be more effective, he said.
"Fifty-five miles per hour is not a safe speed," Bero said.
"It should be reduced to 45, from County Road 33 to County Road 7," agreed Marshall resident Lavern Eick.
Bero presented the council with a petition opposing the project. Bero said it had received 155 signatures.
Residents brought up several other issues they had with the project, including not getting enough notice from the city, concerns about the overpass' effect on privacy and property values, and the possibility of nuisance issues with vehicle headlights as they used the U-turn lanes in the reduced conflict intersections. One resident said he was concerned about possible crash risks caused by drivers trying to dart into the new turn lanes at the last minute.
"I hadn't thought about the lights before," Olson said about one of the concerns. It would be worthwhile to look at planting trees to block headlight beams. Drivers darting into turn lanes may be less of a problem, Olson said, because of the length and design of the lanes.
Cal Brink, of the Marshall Area Transportation Group, spoke in favor of the project. Brink said he thought it was "a little bit odd" that residents seemed to think transportation group members hadn't already tried to pursue the same options brought up Tuesday.
"I'd say about 99 percent of the questions you asked were exhausted with MnDOT," Brink said.
Council members Ellayne Conyers and Larry Doom also spoke in favor of the overpass, especially its safety benefits for pedestrians.
"The state and the city have done their homework on this project, and I think it's a good project," Doom said.
A motion to approve a preliminary design concept for the overpass, and a motion to order preparation of a report on the improvements, both passed unanimously.
A few members of the public were present at Tuesday's meeting for a hearing on planned water and sewer line replacements along part of East Main Street. However, although the residents had received notices for a May 13 hearing, it wasn't on the council's agenda. In response to audience members' questions on the matter during a break in the meeting, Marshall City Attorney Dennis Simpson said notice of the hearing would need to be posted again, and the hearing held at a later council meeting. Olson recommended that members of the public with questions on the project contact the city engineering department.
An informational meeting for property owners affected by the planned project was held last week.