Over the past five years, paramedics and police have responded to more than a dozen crashes that left 16 people dead on Hwy. 12 in the west metro. They’re hoping they won’t be called to another one for the next 12 months.
On Monday, members of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition issued a challenge to drivers: no fatal crashes on a stretch of Hwy. 12 that officials call the most dangerous in the metro area. For a year.
The 38-mile section that runs from Wayzata in western Hennepin County all the way through Wright County has the highest crash rate in the metro when compared to similar two-lane highways, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). It also has seen a high number of crashes involving vehicles crossing the centerline in recent years.
“There have been too many lives lost to this dangerous highway,” said Chief Gary Kroells of West Hennepin Public Safety in announcing the “Going 12 for Highway 12” challenge.
The coalition that formed in July 2014 has been pushing for improved safety along the corridor. Over the past year, it has helped raise awareness and identify some solutions.
For example, last December, Diamond Surface, Inc., of Rogers, Minn., 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.
It’s also been behind an audit to pinpoint problem areas and identify improvements for 2016.
Still, people have died. In August, Chelsea Langhans was driving eastbound on Hwy. 12, headed to a yoga class, when a westbound driver crossed the centerline and hit her head-on near Wayzata. She was 25.
“No family should have to know how it feels to lose a loved one so suddenly in a crash,” said Langhans’ older sister, Liz Squire. “Unfortunately, too many families of other victims of Highway 12 know that feeling. What happened to Chelsea could happen to you.”
Over the past five years there have been 811 crashes on the highway, which was built in the 1930s but now carries more than 15,000 vehicles a day, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. More than 239 people have been injured, according to DPS statistics.
MnDOT has installed bright yellow signs along the route to remind motorists about the campaign, and Kroells said officers will step up traffic enforcement.
Officials from the Minnesota State Patrol, MnDOT and the Highway 12 Safety Coalition said it will take more than road improvements to stop the fatalities. It will take drivers who go the speed limit, wear seat belts, drive sober and pay attention, said Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol.
“We cannot cite, ticket or arrest our way out of this problem,” he said. “To meet this goal, driver distraction needs to stop immediately, no looking at GPS and putting down our phones. We can go 12 months without a fatality.”