MARSHALL - Last week, the city of Marshall got word it had been selected for a $3.5 million state grant to build a pedestrian overpass and take safety measures at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 23 and Saratoga Street. While there are still many parts of the plan that need to be finalized, city officials presented more details on the project at a meeting of the city council's public improvement and transportation committee on Monday.
Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig and Marshall Public Works Director Glenn Olson presented information on both the project's proposed design and cost during the meeting.
In its grant application to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city proposed to build both a pedestrian overpass bridge, and what is called a "reduced conflict intersection" at 23 and Saratoga, Olson said. Olson said this style of intersection would help improve safety for drivers by keeping them from having to cross lanes of traffic moving in two directions.
"The only thing it prevents, is direct crossover access on Saratoga Street," Olson said.
Instead, the intersection would have a system of raised concrete islands, designated turn lanes and U-turn lanes. Drivers making left turns on to or off of 23 would merge into the turn lanes and use the U-turns, instead of having to cross a divided intersection. Drivers on Saratoga Street wanting to cross the highway would also have to use the U-turns, going down and around the intersection to return to Saratoga Street.
"There is kind of a comfort level you have to get used to," Olson said. However, he said a reduced-conflict intersection was built in Willmar and appears to be successful.
In addition to updating the intersection, a pedestrian bridge would be built crossing 23, Olson said. "We have two separate safety issues here," he said.
The project would include the construction of sidewalks along Saratoga Street, Olson said. However, it has not yet been decided which side of the street the sidewalks and pedestrian bridge will be built on.
Martig and Marshall Public Safety Director Rob Yant said there are pedestrians who try to cross 23 at or near the Saratoga Street intersection. Pedestrians often come up through the roadside ditch near the trailer park, Yant said.
When the idea of an overpass at the 23/Saratoga intersection was first discussed several years ago, it was a vehicle overpass, Martig said. However, over time the proposal changed, both for cost and practical reasons. Building a vehicle overpass at 23 and Saratoga would have cost an estimated $1.5 million or more in property acquisitions, plus $8 to $9 million in construction, he said. Olson said building an interchange or pedestrian underpass would have meant problems with cost as well. In the case of an underpass, it would mean tearing up a half-mile of road and four lanes of traffic, he said.
MnDOT's designation of 23 as an interregional corridor also limits what safety measures can be put in place at the intersection, Martig said - for example, a reduced speed limit or stop lights would likely not be approved. Yant said the city has requested a lower speed limit on 23 in Marshall several times, but the requests were not granted.
In its grant application to MnDOT, the city had requested $4.5 million in funding, with a $1.2 million local match. Olson said the overall plan for the intersection and pedestrian bridge would keep the same cost estimate, but because the city was not granted the full $4.5 million, there would need to be about $2.2 million in local funding for the project.
Most of the money would be used to build the reduced-conflict intersection, Olson said, and about $1.2 million to $1.5 million would be used to build the pedestrian overpass. In comparison, the pedestrian footbridges the city has replaced around Marshall cost about $100,000 each, he said.
Factors like the size of the pedestrian overpass and the groundwork needed for it account for the difference in cost, Olson said. There may be opportunities to reduce the cost, depending on the specific design of the overpass.
Olson said the next steps in the project will be to officially enter a grant agreement with MnDOT, and take requests for proposals for project design consultants. The city will likely have a recommendation for a design consultant by September, he said.
A video on reduced conflict intersections, featuring the intersection in Willmar, is available on YouTube, Olson said. The video is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=WebW5JZNrT8.