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Paynesville Press - February 2, 2005

Residents agree turn lane needed on Highway 23

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Around 15 Highway 23 residents and concerned citizens attended a public information meeting last week about the restriping of Highway 23 in Paynesville, scheduled for next summer, and expressed support for the project while raising a few concerns.

MnDOT plans to resurface Highway 23 from Paynesville to Richmond next summer - a routine maintenance project - and then restripe the highway, adding a center turn lane, from Stearns Avenue to Highway 55 in Paynesville when it repaints the lines.

The restriping project was added when MnDOT realized a safety concern on this portion of Highway 23, said Terry Humbert of MnDOT at the half-hour meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at city hall. Currently, a center turn lane exists on Highway 23 in Paynesville from Stearns Avenue to Lake Avenue. Extending the center turn lane through the city should virtually eliminate the risk of rear-end crashes where drivers wait to make left-hand turns from the highway, said Humbert.

Citizens who make left-hand turns on Highway 23 regularly supported this proposed improvement at last week's meeting.

Steve Helget, city administrator for Paynesville but attending the meeting as an interested citizen, said he regularly turns left from Highway 23 onto Maple Street, and reported feeling nervous waiting in traffic to turn. He agreed that a center turn lane should make this maneuver safer.

In order to create a center turn lane on Highway 23 from Stearns Avenue to Highway 55, both the driving lanes and the shoulders (used for parking) will need to be narrowed. From Stearns Avenue to Mill Street, Highway 23 is around 55 feet wide, and it will be restriped like Highway 23 in Paynesville that already has a center turn lane. It will have two nine-foot shoulders for parking, two 12-foot driving lanes, and a 13-foot center turn lane.

From Mill Street to Highway 55, however, the highway is narrower (50 feet). In this section, MnDOT plans to have two eight-foot shoulders, two 11-foot driving lanes, and a 12-foot center turn lane.

According to Humbert, MnDot's standard driving lanes are 12 feet wide, but 11 feet is still acceptable. He doesn't believe the narrower lanes will be a problem in the city, where speeds are reduced.

Humbert was questioned about the safety of parking on the S-curve on Highway 23 by Mill Street. Even without the existing, wider shoulders and driving lanes, parking can still be dangerous there, said Helget. Narrowing the shoulders and driving lanes will make parking more dangerous.

According to Humbert, MnDOT may consider eliminating or restricting parking in these curves. He said he would take suggestions from the meeting back to MnDOT.

Lowell Haagenson, who lives on Richmond Street, supported eliminating parking in this S-curve and then restriping the highway in a way that would make it safer. By straightening the driving lanes in this curve, Haagenson told Humbert, oversteering by drivers could be reduced and accidents avoided.

Helget also questioned whether winter parking would be feasible on the narrower shoulders, as snow could accumulate in the shoulders and make the shoulders too narrow for parking in winter.

Perhaps parking in some areas could be restricted in the winter, Humbert responded.

Ric Koehn, who lives on Highway 23, wondered why MnDOT would spend money on this project now, when it's still possible that a new highway could go through the city (MnDOT is separately studying the best future route for Highway 23 through or around Paynesville.)

The life expectancy of asphalt is 10-12 years, replied Humbert, and the routine resurfacing project is needed. The most cost-effective way to resurface roads is to do it before they are too worn, Humbert added, and MnDOT does not know when Highway 23 improvement/expansion could be done in the Paynesville area.

Residents also wanted to know details about the project schedule and what traffic disruptions to expect during the resurfacing and restriping. Humbert didn't have a time frame, just that the project would start after July, when funds became available. Contractors will work on one lane at a time, he said, access to driveways and businesses would never be blocked for more than a few hours.

Once the project is finished the new striping will be evaluated by MnDOT, said Humbert. If any problems arise from the new striping, the highway could be returned to its present state, he added.

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