BY GABE LICHT
INDEPENDENCE, MN When representatives of communities from Wayzata to Cokato along Highway 12 formed the Highway 12 Safety Coalition in 2014, major improvements to the road were not included in the 20-year plan despite the stretch being called the “corridor of death.”
Four years later, major improvements are in sight, as members of the coalition announced at a press conference and open house Tuesday that three projects, with an estimated cost of $22 million, are slated for 2021.
Those projects include a median wall from Maple Plain to Long Lake, a roundabout at Hennepin County Road 90, and intersection improvements at County Road 92.
Specifics of the County Road 92 intersection improvements have yet to be finalized.
One option is to place a stoplight at the western County Road 92 intersection and a roundabout at the eastern County Road 92 intersection.
Another option is to place a stoplight at both intersections.
A third option is to realign County Road 92 so that it crosses at one point, and to put a stoplight at that intersection.
Two final options presented at the open house would include a new road and bridge over Highway 12 west of the current western County Road 92 intersection. That bridge would connect with Lake Sarah Road and, ultimately, County Road 92. There would also be an offshoot of the new road with either a stoplight or roundabout. In both scenarios, the existing County Road 92 south of Highway 12 would end in a cul-de-sac.
“Right now, we’re kind of in the study phase,” said Nathan Ellingson, a project manager with Hennepin County Public Works. “What you’re seeing now is 2D drawings. The full engineering has not been done. These are concepts. It’s about getting things on paper and seeing what sticks.
“We’ve looked at dozens of alternatives,” he continued. “We thought these were the best groupings to show. We’re here to improve safety and mobility, as well.”
With a current timeline of less than three years, Ellingson said “we’re getting down to the nitty gritty in terms of getting going.”
In addition to engineering, officials will need to negotiate land purchases and the projects will need to go through environmental reviews.
Based on his interactions with the public, Ellingson believes area residents are receptive to a change.
“I think everyone we’ve met and talked to, the property owners in the vicinity of the intersections, understand something needs to change out here, and something has to be done,” Ellingson said. “There is minor impact on some of these, and major impact on others. That’s why we want to get their feedback of what their thoughts are and what their concerns are, so we can go through the alternatives.”
West Hennepin Public Safety Department Chief Gary Kroells, the chair of the coalition, said, “I think there’s still more work to be done, as always. With continuing development, population increases, and traffic increases, it’s hard to say, but I think these are three good solutions in the next three years that will create safer intersection control.”
12 for 12
Kroells talked about the 12 for 12 campaign that had a goal of zero fatalities for 12 months on Highway 12 on the 38-mile stretch between Wayzata and Cokato.
“That goal was aggressive, and we wanted to protect everyone and save lives during that time frame and that distance on Highway 12,” Kroells said.
That goal was finally achieved when 12 months and 12 days passed without a fatality.
“But, sadly, shortly after reaching the year point, a pedestrian was killed in Cokato crossing Highway 12 Sept. 20,” Kroells said. “We continue to be saddened by yet another loss on Highway 12. Our thoughts and prayers go out to this family who is suffering the loss of a loved one.”
Lt. Tiffani Nielson, public information officer with the Minnesota State Patrol, shared more information about that incident.
“There was a driver traveling eastbound on Highway 12, approaching the city limits of Cokato,” Nielsen said. “There was a pedestrian crossing the roadway, not in the intersection, and the pedestrian was walking with her back to traffic.”
She reminded both pedestrians and motorists to be alert, noting that the State Patrol will stop those committing infractions.
Enforcement and education are two of “four Es” that are a part of the Toward Zero Deaths approach being applied.
Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety, emphasized those efforts.
“As part of the Highway 12 Safety Coalition, there are several law enforcement agencies here and working on the highway,” Hanson said. “Their sole mission while working on Highway 12 is to prevent tragedies from happening. They do that by paying attention to speed violations; making sure drivers are paying attention to what they’re doing behind the wheel, (and) never being impaired; and making sure those seat belts and restraint systems are always used every time.”
Those agencies also work with emergency management services, which represents the third E, to respond to crashes along the highway.
Engineering is the fourth E.
“Engineering is a key and essential part in removing the risks drivers face with road design, and increases our chances of safer outcomes,” Hanson said.
Hanson adds a fifth E: Everyone.
“We are all responsible for what happens in our vehicles,” Hanson said. “Everyone needs to take responsibility for making good choices when driving on Highway 12 and everywhere throughout our state.”