Council gives OK to build overpass

MARSHALL – A proposed pedestrian overpass and safety improvements for the intersection of Saratoga Street and Minnesota Highway 23 were back before the Marshall City Council at a public hearing Tuesday night. This time around, the project got final approval from council members.

Council members had a few questions about the project at the hearing, but a motion to approve it and order preparation of plans still got unanimous support.

The pedestrian overpass project is part of an ongoing municipal effort to improve safety at the Saratoga/Highway 23 intersection. The city of Marshall received a $3.5 million state grant to build the overpass on the west side of Saratoga Street and build a “J-turn,” or reduced-conflict intersection on Highway 23. In May, the city council voted to approve a preliminary design for the overpass.

Chris Cavett of engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson went over some of the details of the proposed plan, including the dimensions of the overpass and walkway and safe crossing measures near the mobile home court south of the highway. A crosswalk and pedestrian island would be built on Saratoga Street to help give residents safe access to the overpass, Cavett said.

Council member Glenn Bayerkohler asked why the city was not pursuing a full interchange at the Saratoga/23 intersection.

“When we’re spending that amount of money, we want to make sure we consider all the options,” Bayerkohler said.

Cavett and Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson said a highway interchange would be more difficult to build in that area, and require the city to buy several residential properties.

Neighbors of the project site again urged the council to pursue a lower speed limit on Highway 23 instead of an overpass and reduced conflict intersection.

“One of the key contributing factors in any accident is speed,” said Marshall resident David Bero. Bero called for the city to pursue lowering the speed limit on Highway 23 to 40 miles per hour within city limits. He added that he has yet to see a copy of the city’s past requests to MnDOT lower the speed limit. “I don’t think we’ve explored all the options.”

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said city staff are going through past records to try and find the requests for Bero.

Lynd resident Mike Dulas spoke about his experiences as a daily commuter driving on Highway 23.

“This plan is a good plan,” he said of the overpass. “But it’s not enough.” Dulas urged the council to look at more immediate safety options as well, like closing the highway crossing at Saratoga and 23.

After the hearing was closed, the council voted to approve the overpass and safety project.

In other business, the council revisited proposed updates to city zoning ordinances, which included guidelines for building appearances and upkeep, landscaping around commercial and residential properties and storage structures outside a residence or other main building. The proposals had sparked some disagreement last fall among city council members, especially with regards to how much detail some of the standards went into.

In some cases, the proposed ordinance changes brought before the council Tuesday night had been relaxed from their earlier versions. However, they still included some of the landscaping standards that prompted past discussions. The new ordinance standards called for at least 30 percent of a residential or business property to be landscaped and for trees to be planted at a rate of at least one tree per 4,000 square feet of exposed ground, or one tree per 50 feet of the property’s street frontage.

The new ordinance proposal also placed limits on the size and placement of vegetable gardens on residential properties. Vegetable gardens could not be located in a front yard, or take up more than 25 percent of a back yard. However, larger gardens could be allowed by a conditional use permit.

Council member John DeCramer said the updated ordinances would give Marshall residents a formal way to address possible eyesores while still protecting a reasonable amount of variation around yards and homes.

Council members voted 5-2 in favor of approving the updated zoning ordinances. Council members Jennie Hulsizer and Larry Doom voted against the proposal.