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Time for action on Highway 12
Aug. 24, 2015

By Gabe Licht

I’m not feeling well.

I suppose you could say I’m sick.

But, this column isn’t about me, it’s about why I’m sick. I’m sick of covering terrible crashes on Highway 12, as I did this week.

A man whose only “mistake” was trying to turn left off Highway 12 has died.

Another man emerged from the crash unhurt. Though it’s unclear whether or not he was intoxicated, law enforcement has reported he made the mistake – no quotes needed – of drinking and driving.

This incident came two weeks after a woman was arrested for allegedly driving drunk and fleeing from officers on Highway 12, and two days after an individual with a medical condition nearly hit another vehicle head-on in the same stretch of road. A matter of inches was the difference between a fatal crash and minor injuries.

Less than two months ago, a 17-year-old fell asleep, crossed two lanes of traffic – nearly colliding with oncoming vehicles – and struck a sign. Amazingly, she was not injured.

These are just a few examples of crashes on Highway 12 over the past couple months.

Notice how I’m not calling them accidents.

Very few crashes are actually accidents. Most of them are caused by something, or rather, someone.

The topic was at the center of a debate on Facebook recently.

When one person classified Highway 12 as dangerous, another countered that thousands of people drive the road every day without incident and that crashes are caused by distracted driving or by not maintaining a safe following distance.

The conclusion was not to argue over semantics.

Of course, a road can’t distract someone, make them drunk, make them fall asleep, or make them follow someone closer than they ought to.

It is up to drivers to be focused, sober, and awake. It is also their responsibility to take action if they are not focused, sober, or awake.

That is a big part of the equation.

The other part of the equation is that some roads are more forgiving than others.

Highway 12 is not one of those roads. Instead of minimizing mistakes, it magnifies them.

There is a very devoted group of caring individuals that are trying to change the equation: the Highway 12 Safety Coalition.

This group deserves a lot of credit for bringing attention to the shortfalls of Highway 12.

Since the creation of the coalition, rumble strips have been added to much of the stretch between Long Lake and Delano.

Some groups may have been too busy patting themselves on the back to keep working, but not the coalition. The group has gotten the attention of MnDOT, and the two groups worked together with a consulting firm to perform a safety audit on Highway 12.

A lot of good information and ideas came out of that study.

Now, it is time to take action, especially between Maple Plain and Delano.

The intersections with Hennepin County Road 92 need to be modified.

Had there been a true left-turn lane with a straight eastbound lane next to it, Thursday’s crash likely would not have happened.

I’m not sure what MnDOT and its consultants will come up with at that intersection, but I can guarantee it will be an improvement.

Such an improvement is needed sooner rather than later.

For that reason, I’m calling on all area representatives to do their part.

Rep. Tom Emmer, since this is a federal highway, is there anything Congress can do?

We know there are things the state can do – otherwise MnDOT wouldn’t be involved – so I’m asking Rep. Joe McDonald, Rep. Jerry Hertaus, Sen. David Osmek, and Sen. Bruce Anderson to push the issue when the state legislature reconvenes. A special session was considered to deal with the “walleye crisis” on Lake Mille Lacs, so maybe it’s not too crazy to consider a special session to spend some surplus on saving lives.

Just a thought.

Let me be clear: Changing the design of Highway 12 is only one part of the equation.

Because human behavior is the other major part of the equation, educational efforts will be needed.

MnDOT and the coalition will be a part of those efforts, but everyone can do something.

Let’s start by being aware.

Our lives, and the lives of our family, friends, neighbors, and even those just passing through, depend on it.

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