BY KRISTI TUKUA
DELANO, MN The information, as well as public comments, provided during the March 7 Highway 12 Safety Coalition meeting took on a greater significance in the aftermath of the tragic Highway 12 traffic crash death of Delano High School senior, Marleena Dieterich that occurred March 2, and the winter’s horrendous driving conditions.
“It’s been a tough winter,” said West Hennepin Public Safety Department Chief Gary Kroells, the chair of the commission.
He called the crash a tragic accident that is still under investigation.
“I know there is nothing I can do to bring these people back,” Kroells said of the numerous individuals who have have been killed on Highway 12. “Everyone needs to get together.”
Dieterich’s father, Thom Dieterich, and grandmother, Faye Dieterich, were in attendance.
Kroells said to them that he “was sorry for your loss” and said he believes “this isn’t going to be the last death.”
“There are things you can be doing right now so somebody else doesn’t have this cause,” Thom Dieterich said.
“An 18-year-old girl died and nobody thinks they should do something, anything, right now?” Faye Dieterich added.
There was a comment on the wind tunnel effect at County Road 6 and Highway 12 and comments on the icy roads.
One woman asked whether there were highway signs that could be installed to update drivers on road conditions such as black ice.
Regarding plowing and public works: Highway 12 is maintained by two different districts. County Road 90 and east is maintained by the Metro District, while County Road 90 to Maple Lake is maintained by the Buffalo office.
Kroells said that communication has improved regarding law enforcement and the maintenance districts.
A member of the public asked why one area is cleared better and asked whether it is a matter of resources; a lack of resources? In her experience commuting from the west to east, she thinks that even with an all-wheel drive vehicle and an experienced driver, the stretch from the west to Maple Plain is the worst stretch.
In response, Kroells said he feels just the opposite: that west of County Road 90 is usually better, and east to the Cities is worse.
Kroells said that every city in the 38 miles from Wayzata west has been trying to find a solution to prevent deaths on Highway 12. In 2014 and 2015, bypass lanes for left turns were added for County Roads 90 and 92. Concrete center dividers have been placed in some areas. Legislatively, they have gone back three times for additional funds, $11.5 million, for improvements and for additional concrete barriers. He said there is “a lot of work to do.”
There is to be a massive project on Highway 12, at the cost of $22 million, starting in 2021. A roundabout has been designed for the County Road 90 and Highway 12 intersection. Engineers are also looking at a redesign of the Highway 12 and County Road 92 intersection; alternatives and ideas are being evaluated from an engineering standpoint and as to the cost for different options. Third, center concrete barriers are to be installed on Highway 12 from County Road 6 to Baker Park Road in Maple Plain.
In the spring, there will be repair of centerline rumble strips between Delano and Maple Plain and, possibly, a resurfacing project.
There were questions for MnDOT about rumble strips and a concrete median and areas of Highway 12 not wide enough to accommodate a median barrier, a discussion that has been had before. It was mentioned that there are, in some areas, difficulties for police and fire access when there are barriers.
Odds and ends
In other business, the commission:
• learned there will be a statewide effort, an extra push regarding distracted driving. April 11, there will be a Highway 12 enforcement campaign, from Minneapolis west to the state line for distracted driving.
• learned there is a new video called “Lasting Impact” which is to be shown at high schools. On request, troopers can come present the video at high schools.
• encouraged the public to contact individual members of the Safety Coalition with questions and suggestions.
• announced that the next coalition meeting will be at 3 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at Delano City Hall.