Over the past five years, paramedics and police have responded to more than a dozen fatal 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 38-mile stretch of Hwy 12 that officials call the most dangerous in the metro area.
The 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).
"There have been too many lives lost to this dangerous highway," said Chief Gary Kroells of the West Hennepin Public Safety in announcing the "Going 12 for Highway 12" challenge. "This is everybody's problem. We are tired of these lives being lost."
The coalition formed in July 2014 has been pushing for improved safety along the corridor whic t has seen a high number of crashes involving vehicles crossing the center line in recent years.
Over the past year, the coalition has helped bring attention to the issue and some solutions, too. Last December, its efforts resulted in a Rogers, Minn., firm installing center rumble strips from County Road 6 to the Maple Plain border and west of Maple Plain to County Line Road, which serves as the border between Delano and Independence. The company, Diamond Surface, Inc., did the work for free.
It's also been behind an audit to identify problem areas and other improvements planned for 2016.
Still, people have died. In August, Chelsea Langhans was driving eastbound on Hwy. 12, headed to a Saturday yoga class, when a westbound driver came across the centerline and hit her head-on near Wayzata. She was killed instantly at age 25.
"It's been a devastating and heartbreaking time for us," said Langhans'' older sister, Liz Squire. "No family should have to know how it feels to lose a loved one so suddenly in a crash. Unfortunately, too many families of other vicitms of Hwy. 12 know that feeling. What happened to Chelsea could happen to you. My family and I applaud the efforts of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition."
Over the past five years there have been 811 crashes on the two-lane highway that was built in the 1930s, but now carries more than 15,000 vehicles a day, by MnDOT counts. More than 239 people have been injured, according to DPS statistics.
Officials from the State Patrol, MnDOT and the Highway 12 Safety Coalition said it will take more than safety improvements to stop the carnage and fatalities. It will take drivers who go the speed limit, wear their seat belts, drive sober and pay attention, said Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol.
MnDOT has installed bright yellow signs along the route to remind motorists about the year-long campaign and to be careful and attentive.
Over the next year, Kroells said law enforcement will step up traffic enforcement.
"We can not 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."