DELANO, MN Many options are on the table for reducing serious and fatal crashes on Highway 12. Thursday afternoon, the Highway 12 Safety Coalition discussed a number of those options, including extending the median barrier on the “Super 2” portion of the highway near Long Lake and Orono.
“There’s no way to do it this year,” said Chad Erickson, an engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “It’s shocking how hard it would be. The earliest would be next summer if everything came together.”
Currently, that stretch of highway has 14-foot-wide lanes that would be reduced to 11-foot lanes with only 2 feet between each lane and the barrier, compared to a preferred 4-foot gap.
“The less reaction distance will increase the possibility of folks coming into contact with a barrier,” said MnDOT Metro West Area engineer Ron Rauchle. “While it would address the head-on crashes . . . it will not decrease the number of crashes. It will probably increase the number of crashes in this section of roadway.”
Erickson agreed that, in almost every case, adding a barrier has increased the number of crashes, but has decreased the number of fatal and serious crashes, which is the focus of MnDOT.
“It’s important for the community to understand that,” said Independence Councilwoman Lynn Betts, who serves on the coalition. “I could see people wanting the barrier taken out.”
In addition to the possibility of more crashes, a barrier would create other challenges because the road and the majority of the bridge were not designed to have a barrier on them.
One challenge would be drainage, as the road is sloped on curves and a barrier could impede water from running off the road, which would cause more icing in the winter.
Another challenge would be creating a break in the barrier for emergency personnel to utilize and the possibility of motorists trying to use such a break to turn around.
MnDOT is considering many different types of barriers, including a guardrail, high-tension cable, concrete barrier, or steel barrier.
“As we arrive on what would be the best option, we have to find out how to pay for it,” Rauchel said.
His colleague, MnDOT Metro District engineer Scott McBride, had estimated the cost to be between $3 million and $5 million during the Sept. 10 meeting of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition.
The 60 mph speed limit and ability to pass on the stretch of road was also discussed.
Erickson said a no passing zone had been discussed before, but nothing had come of it.
“As for the speed limit,” he added, “the crashes aren’t related to speed. It was first posted at 55 mph, and then 60. Changing the speed limit simply brought more people into compliance, but it didn’t raise the speed much.”
Regardless, he said MnDOT would look into the speed on the road.
While MnDOT continues to work on the details, West Hennepin Public Safety Director Gary Kroells, who chairs the coalition, said there would be an open forum to get public input on a barrier on the Super 2.
About 20 people attended Thursday’s coalition meeting, including the sister of Chelsea Langhans, who was killed in a head-on crash on the Super 2 Aug. 22.
“I just wanted to say thank you everyone for putting in the effort, and being here, and doing everything, and throwing out ideas to make this road safer,” Liz Squire said. “It was a freak accident with my sister. It was a medical situation. The only thing that could have prevented that would be that barrier. I’m very happy we’re moving towards figuring out a solution.”
Langhans’ friend Brittany Schatz was more direct with her comments.
“I appreciate all the effort for things like education and signage, but the fact of the matter is, no matter how much time or money or middle school students you throw at people, there are going to be drunk drivers, there are going to be distracted drivers, and absolutely unpreventably, there will be emergency medical episodes. All of those events can and will cause people to drift into the other lane,” Schatz said.
Her comments came after Wayzata Police Chief Mike Mike Risvold had suggested a “two-way traffic” sign with flashing lights for westbound traffic, and after Toward Zero Deaths Coordinator Susan Youngs unveiled her “Going 12 for US Highway 12” plan.
Toward Zero Deaths
Youngs’ plan aims to go 12 months without a fatal crash on the Highway 12 corridor.
The month-by-month plan includes developing a Holiday DWI poster, a tentative road sign along Highway 12, local presentations, outreach in schools, DWI table tents created by junior high students, community message boards, outreach at local festivals and events, the AT&T “It Can Wait” Campaign, and more.
“The campaign will follow the Toward Zero Deaths enforcement waves,” Youngs said, referencing efforts such as increased DWI patrols in November and December. “We want to do educational efforts during the same time.”
Though Youngs did not discuss numbers, she stated at a previous meeting that fatal crashes have decreased from about 650 annually to about 370 annually over a 12-year period.
Youngs said she loves the “12 for 12” campaign, including the addition of driver safety messages on electronic signs at Orono High School.
Kroells explained that space on the signs has been donated and the coalition is looking for catchy slogans to put on the signs.
He also explained that officers from area departments recently joined five Minnesota State Patrol troopers to stop drivers for speed, seatbelt violations, and distracted driving to educate them.
“This is not a fundraising campaign, but an educational campaign,” Kroells said. “It may result in a ticket, but it’s education and enforcement. We plan to do this on a regular basis.”
Risvold said his department posted information about the extra patrols on Facebook beforehand, attracting 16,000 views and mostly positive comments. Kroells said his department would post about extra enforcement beforehand, as well.
At the previous coalition meeting, adding pavement and striping to create a left turn lane at Hennepin County roads 92 and 90 was discussed.
“Getting something in this fall doesn’t seem likely,” Rauchel said of the two County Road 92 intersections. “For one, the pavement suppliers will be shutting down fairly soon.”
He believes the project will “probably happen next spring.”
Part of the hang-up is that the existing shoulders would need to be removed so thicker pavement that could support the heavy amount of traffic could be laid.
“We don’t want to make a bad situation worse by trying to get out there too quickly,” Rauchel said.
Independence Mayor, and coalition member, Marvin Johnson said State Rep. Jerry Hertaus is working toward securing funding to align County Road 92. Kroells noted that project would be down the road further, as acquiring land takes a minimum of 18 months.
Erickson added that creating a turn lane on County Road 90 would be more complicated and cost around $750,000.
“Trying to do an interim project like this may not be possible,” Erickson said. “With the width of the intersection and the curve, it’s more challenging.”
Kroells asked MnDOT to look into removing a berm and trees near the railroad tracks and the intersection. Rauchel said MnDOT would need to work with the railroad to do so because it is not on state property.
MnDOT had approved $100,000 for LED lighting on every intersection between Independence and Delano, but that will likely take place in the spring.
“There’s usually a six-week lead time on getting the poles,” Erickson said. “We are working with our construction office and they’re trying to expedite the approval process at our central office.”
If the contractor who wins the bid has poles in stock, or if MnDOT has poles in stock, the project may still take place in the fall, Erickson said.
MnDOT has been looking at the area between Hennepin County roads 6 and 29, where three fatalities took place in 2014, noting, “That’s another area we’ve discussed expanding the center barrier.”
He acknowledged that doing so would be difficult due to the railroad on one side and parkland and wetlands on the other.
Rumble strips will likely be added to the shoulder of Highway 12 between Hennepin County Road 83 and the railroad bridge soon.
“It seems pretty likely we’ll be getting them in this fall,” Erickson said.
However, adding centerline rumble strips may be more problematic if it gets too cold to repaint striping, he added.
Regarding Delano, Kroells asked MnDOT to consider extending the right-turn lane at the County Line Road intersection, and better coordinating the timing of the stoplights at the intersection with the stoplights at the Tiger Drive intersection to improve traffic flow in the evening.
“That might just reduce some of those rear-end crashes and congestion,” Kroells said.
The coalition discussed dividing into breakout groups to discuss individual areas, but decided to continue with monthly meetings as a full coalition, with MnDOT working with individual communities as needed.
“There’s strength in numbers and working with the whole corridor is how we’ve gotten where we are right now,” Kroells said.
The coalition will meet next at 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at Delano City Hall.