Byrnes: no guarantee speed limit on 23 will drop

MARSHALL – Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes isn’t against lowering the speed limit on Minnesota Highway 23 in Marshall but knows a speed study – which he is requesting for that corridor – is no panacea.

Safety has long been an issue on the highway, even more so in recent years as the city has experienced marked growth on that side of town, and measures have been taken to improve safety at intersections along the highway.

A roughly 14-foot-wide overpass and other significant safety improvements at the Saratoga/23 intersection are scheduled in 2015. Stoplights, reduced speed limits, a pedestrian underpass and an interchange were all considered for the intersection, and the overpass was considered to be the best alternative for pedestrians and cyclists.

That being said, a seemingly growing number of residents want to see the speed limit knocked down a peg, or five.

“I understand their frustrations,” Byrnes said. “I was the first at the scene of an accident some years ago at the Saratoga intersection, and there have been way too many people injured in serious accidents on the highway.”

Byrnes said there is no guarantee MnDOT will accept the request and move forward with a study or if it will ask for a resolution from the city council. He said he doesn’t hold out hope such a study will directly lead to lowering the speed limit.

“My concern is that the speed study may actually make it harder for MnDOT to reduce the speed limit,” he said.

Byrnes said MnDOT strives to strike a balance between safety and efficiency on state highways – no easy task for a highway that has traditionally-high traffic counts that only continue to grow.

In his letter of request to MnDOT for a current speed study, dated July 9, Byrnes cites concern among residents that the posted speed limit of 55 mph “may be too fast for safe conditions along this route.”

The request is for a city limits-to-city limits speed study.

If MnDOT determines the speed limit should be lowered, it would be the second time it has happened since 2000.

The last speed study on 23 was done in 2005 for the portion from Minnesota Highway 19 north between Southwest Minnesota State University and Marshall High School. In 2002, a speed study took place and an agreement was made to post the speed limit at 60 mph. Subsequently, Byrnes said, MnDOT reduced the posted speed limit to 55 mph within city limits.

“So there is some history there,” Byrnes said. “Can it be reduced more? That would be my hope, but it’s really a MnDOT decision.”