Members of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition have pushed for improvements to make it safer for drivers who travel along a deadly stretch of Hwy. 12 in the west metro, and on Friday they learned that they will get one of their requests in the form of a concrete center median.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has allocated about $2.3 million for the barrier that will be built in September from Interstate 394 in Wayzata to County Road 6 in Orono. The barrier will separate traffic on the 3½-mile segment of the two-lane highway that has seen several fatal and serious injury crashes over the past five years, including three in three days last August.
In November, the coalition kicked off a campaign to go 12 months without a fatal crash. Since then, there have been three, or one every 45 days, along with several near-misses.
“It’s fantastic to get one of the many projects that are needed to protect lives along Hwy. 12,” said Gary Kroells, West Hennepin Public Safety director and a member of the coalition. “It’s a step forward to fix the problem with head-on collisions.”
The median was one the upgrades that was part of a $15 million line item in the state bonding bill. Legislators failed to pass the bill leaving MnDOT with no funding to pay for the wall.
A MnDOT spokeswoman confirmed that the agency will pay for the barrier with $2.3 million that the Federal Highway Administration withholds annually from MnDOT due to Minnesota’s comparatively less stringent DWI laws.
Kroells said he hopes legislators will not forget about two other safety improvements on Hwy. 12 that had been included in the 2016 bonding bill: a roundabout at County Road 90 and realigning the intersection of County Road 92 in Independence.
“We’re glad we got the concrete median,” Kroells said. “We still need to get the others. We desperately need them now.”
For the past two years, the Highway 12 Safety Coalition, composed of law enforcement members and representatives of 12 communities and two sheriff’s offices tired of seeing people die on Hwy. 12, has been meeting monthly to brainstorm safety ideas and work to secure state funding to make improvements on what some have nicknamed the “Corridor of Death.” The concrete median and improvements at County Roads 90 and 92 have been at the top of their wish list.
Over the past five years, 23 people have been killed in crashes on the portion of the highway that runs through western Hennepin County. It has seen three wrecks resulting in death or serious injury for every 100,000 vehicle miles traveled, or nearly twice the rate of 1.57 wrecks on similar two-lane highways in the state, according to a 2015 safety audit conducted by the state Department of Transportation.
More than 60 percent of fatal or incapacitating crashes identified by the audit were head-on crashes, and 40 percent of those occurred in the Orono, Long Lake, Maple Plain and Independence areas, the audit found.
MnDOT has already installed LED lights at county road intersections between Maple Plain and Delano, and this summer will begin building left turn lanes on the staggered intersections from Hwy. 12 where traffic heads north or south to County 92, said spokeswoman Chris Krueger.
About 24,000 vehicles a day travel on the narrow stretch of Hwy. 12 from Wayzata to the Hennepin-Wright County line.
The median would be the first major safety improvement since December 2014 when a private company donated centerline rumble strips from County Road 6 to the Maple Plain border and west of Maple Plain to County Line Road, the border between Delano and Independence.
In a Facebook post, Orono police cheered the center median and warned drivers of weekend and evening closures when the wall is built.
“Thanks to all who have worked on this project. An even bigger thank you to MnDOT,” the posting said. “Now it is our job as motorists to drive safe and be responsible and courteous to fellow motorists.”