Members of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition will watch closely as legislators debate the state bonding bill, which contains a request for $15 million to improve the dangerous stretch of road in western Hennepin County.
The money, if approved, would be used to build a concrete median barrier to separate traffic on a 3½-mile stretch of Hwy. 12 between 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.
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.
The latest fatality happened Saturday near Old Crystal Bay Road in Orono, when Alexander Grenell, 26, of Maple Grove, was killed after he rear-ended a vehicle. His vehicle then spun out and came to rest in the westbound lane, where he was hit by an oncoming vehicle, according to a State Patrol report.
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.
“I am frustrated with this. Congestion seems to trump public safety,” said Highway 12 Safety Coalition member and West Hennepin Public Safety Chief Gary Kroells. “We’re making improvements all over the metro that deal with traffic congestion … and that is trumping traffic safety when it’s so boldly obvious that we have a serious problem out here. Money is being spent for congestion rather than safety.”
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 40 days, along with several near-misses.
“I don’t know how many people have died on I-494 or I-694, but I’m sure we’ve had more,” said Wayzata Police Chief Michael Risvold. “We are looking for money.”
About 24,000 vehicles travel on the narrow stretch of Hwy. 12 at issue, which was built in the 1930s and has not seen significant upgrades since the 1950s.
If the bonding request is approved, the concrete median could be built this fall. The wall would cost $3.5 million, with $2 million for the County Road 90 roundabout and $10 million for realigning the County Road 92 intersection.
“This is a need,” Kroells said. “It’s not a pork belly wish list.”