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Hwy. 12 Safety Coalition renews push for funding after bonding bill fails

The State Legislature's failure to pass a bonding bill means $15 million in state funds was not allocated to make improvements to a dangerous stretch of Hwy. 12 in western Hennepin County.

That lack of action has not set too well with members of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition, which has organized a press conference at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Maple Plain Family Center in Maple Plain to renew their push for funding. Representative Jerry Hertaus (R) called the press conference.

In a letter expressing the coalition's disappointment, West Hennepin Public Safety Chief Gary Kroells wrote on Facebook Monday:

"Most of you woke up this morning and heard the horrible news the bonding bill was not passed by our legislature last night. As we all know this means no funding for safety improvements along Highway 12 in Hennepin County. I, along with you, am very disappointed and frustrated an agreement could not be reached to protect the lives of people traveling on Highway 12 each and every day.

The safety of people traveling on Highway 12 is a priority for our coalition and will continue to be our focus. Together we can make a difference and save lives. Funding is needed for MnDOT to move forward with safety improvements. Saving lives and reducing serious injury crashes should be the focus vs. traffic congestion.

Let’s hope another person doesn’t need to die on Highway 12 to get the funding needed to save lives. The safety audit is very clear.

A special session will need to be called by Governor Dayton."

The money, if approved, would be used to build a concrete median barrier to separate traffic on a 3½-mile stretch of Hwy. 12 through Wayzata and Orono, put a roundabout at County Road 90 and realign the intersection with County Road 92 in Independence.

Over the past five years, 23 people have been killed in crashes on the road. 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 Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Buckle up, or risk a ticket or worse. Seat belt campaign begins Monday

When it comes to seat belt usage, Minnesotans do a pretty good job. More than 94 percent of front seat  motorists and passengers buckle up when in the car according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's 2015 Minnesota Seat Belt Survey.

But for the six percent of those who don't and are involved in a crash, the results can be deadly. In 2015, 91 unbelted motorists lost their lives on Minnesota roads. Over the past five years, 527 unbelted motorists lost their lives and 1,035 people suffered life-changing injuries, the DPS said.

From Monday through June 5, more than 300 law enforcement agencies from across the state will be looking for motorists who are not wearing their seat belts as part of Click It or Ticket campaign. The goal of the campaign is to increase seat belt usage and prevent serious injuries and deaths, said Donna Berger, Office of Traffic Safety director.

“We may trust our own driving abilities, but we’re all vulnerable to the dangerous driving habits of others,” she said. “Protect yourself and your family by buckling up — every seat, every time.”

According to the DPS, wearing a seat belt will reduce the chances of: :
◦Crashing into the windshield.
◦Slamming into and injuring other passengers.
◦Being ejected from the vehicle.

“I would have never guessed that a piece of cloth would save my life," said 11-year-old Josh Krambler, of Buffalo, who survived a crash because he wore his seat belt. The truck he was riding in is shown above. “It is insane to think that I would not be here today if that piece of cloth was never invented. Seat belts are like insurance, you never know when they will save your life.”

Kianna Stewart, 17, of Red Wing, said she's still alive because she made the choice to buckle up on the night she fell asleep at the wheel and rolled her car.

“I could have died that night,” Stewart said. “A seat belt is a decision that could save your life, if I wasn’t wearing mine, I don’t think I would be here to tell people to put one on. I don’t think I would have had a chance to survive.”

In 2015, 77 percent of vehicle occupants who were ejected or partially ejected and died were not wearing a seat belt.

As a reminder, seat belt usage is the law in Minnesota. All drivers and passengers must be buckled up or seated in the correct child restraint. Officers will stop and ticket unbelted drivers or passengers, or for those not wearing them correctly. Belts must be worn low and snug across the hips, and shoulder straps should never be tucked under an arm or behind the back.

The law also requires that children must be in a child restraint until they are 4 feet 9 inches, or at least age 8, whichever comes first.

Photo: Minnesota State Patrol