If overpass is the best option on 23, keep it simple

If the city of Marshall is going to go ahead with a pedestrian bridge, or overpass, we urge our city leaders to do it with frugality in mind. We don’t want to cut corners on the bridge and end up dealing with extensive maintenance in five years, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to overspend. In other words, don’t go on a shopping spree just to fancy it up; save money where you can.

No one will argue the need for improved safety at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 23 and Saratoga Street, and no one can put a price on a human life, so let’s spend some money on an overpass – but please, no frills. Buying safety might not be cheap, but it doesn’t have to break the bank, either. There’s no need for extravagance, especially when Marshall taxpayers are already on the hook for helping pay for the new sports complex.

Hindsight’s 20/20, but this is a project that probably should’ve been done in conjunction with the rebuilding of the highway years ago – that’s why the underpass between SMSU and the high school got fast-tracked, because the road was being ripped up anyway. That would’ve been the opportune time to address the issue at Saratoga and do something about it. But that didn’t happen, so the city is dealing with it now.

It’s also dealing, in some respects, with a lack of options.

The best, most cost-effective way to improve safety at the intersection – and along the stretch of that highway within or near city any limits – would be to slow traffic down, but state standards dictate the speed limit on a corridor like Highway 23, and since we’re dealing with a state highway, the city’s hands are unfortunately tied there; it knows that because it’s been down that road before.

Ryan Barney, MnDOT District 8 traffic engineer, said the agency does speed studies on highways after receiving requests from cities to change speed limits.

“What that entails is we look at the road type and condition, location and access points, developments in that area,” he said. “We look at existing traffic controls, we even look back at crash history along a corridor.”

Barney said MnDOT does speed tests as well to determine the 85th percentile speed – how fast 85 percent of drivers are driving on a highway – to set comfortable speeds for people to drive. The goal, he said, is to limit points of conflict on a highway. The state does have statutory speed limits throughout the state – typically 30 mph in residential areas, 55 mph on rural two-lanes and 65 mph on expressways.

“If you post it too high, people driving slower can create conflict; if you post it too low and drivers feel comfortable driving much faster, that can also create discomfort and create crashes. We use the study to determine what is most appropriate.”

Barney said changing – or in this case, reducing – a speed limit isn’t as simple as one would think. We wish it was and that cities had more local control over how fast drivers can drive on certain stretches that could be classified as residential. Calling that area residential today might be a stretch, but in 10 or 20 years, things could look a whole lot different out there.

But since the city can’t do anything about speed limits, we’ll look to its officials to keep the costs of this important safety project as minimal as possible.