Reps seek to rescue Hwy. 12 funding

MN House Speaker Kurt Daudt speaks with members of the public and other house representatives at a Maple Plain event calling for a special session. (Photo by Susan Van Cleaf)
MN House Speaker Kurt Daudt speaks with members of the public and other house representatives at a Maple Plain event calling for a special session. (Photo by Susan Van Cleaf)
By Susan Van Cleaf
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Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), Wednesday, May 25, expressed confidence that an infrastructure bonding bill would earmark $15 million in safety improvements for Highway 12 if Gov. Mark Dayton would be willing to call a special session of the State Legislature in order to get it done.

He spoke at a press conference in the parking lot of the Maple Plain Family Center on Highway 12. The time and location of the press conference were chosen for maximum effect. The event began at 9:15 a.m., the tail end of rush hour, and speakers were located right on the edge of Highway 12.

At times traffic noise drowned out some of the soft voiced speakers, including Angela Erickson, of Buffalo. She lost her sister, Paige Duncan, of Bloomington, on Feb. 15 in a crash on Highway 12 near County Road 92 in Independence.

Investigators said that because of icy road conditions Duncan lost control of her car and slid sideways across the center line. Reportedly, her vehicle was struck broadside by oncoming traffic.

The press conference was a joint effort of House Republicans, the Highway 12 Safety Coalition and families of people who recently lost loved ones to traffic accidents on Highway 12 between Wayzata and Delano. The mood of people in attendance was somber.

By law, the Minnesota State Legislature was required to end its regular 2016 session by midnight, Sunday, May 22. The session ended without passage of bonding and transportation bills.

Daudt gave his version of how things stood when the clock clicked to midnight. Democrats had started negotiations with a proposal for $1.4 million in bonding to fund road and bridge improvements across the state. Republicans started at $600 million and then moved up to $800 million.

At 6 p.m. on the last day of the regular legislative session, “there finally was some movement,” according to Daudt. As midnight approached, Democrats and Republicans were on the verge of agreeing upon a $700 million bonding bill for roads and bridges that included $15 million in safety improvements for Highway 12.

“I know the end of session is hectic,” he said. “One nice thing about the end of session, that end deadline forces people to come together to reach true compromise. We did that. It was an unbelievably good bill that would have put real dollars into highways just like this to make them safer.

“We encourage Governor Dayton to call a special session to take up that bill so we can get the money to make this a safer stretch of road so no one else has to suffer the tragedies that these families have,” Daudt said.

He said the bill had bipartisan support amounting to a veto-proof majority of both bodies of the state legislature. “When you see that kind of vote totals in both bodies, that shows you how much support the bill has. Unfortunately, we ran out of time.”

That support, said Daudt, should give the bill a good chance of passage should a special session be called.

“Because it has such bipartisan support, I believe we have a really good opportunity to get it passed,” said Daudt. “Let’s not stray too far from where we were because we did reach an agreement at the end of session. We can have conversations about small changes, but if we try to stray too far from where we are with this bipartisan agreement at the end of session, it may get more difficult to get an agreement to get a bill passed.”

Daudt said that, in addition to provisions to improve Highway 12 safety, the bonding bill would fund road and bridge projects around the state that have been talked about for 20 to 30 years.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield), West Hennepin Public Safety Director Gary Kroells, Angela Erickson and other relatives of Highway 12 crash victims joined Daudt in his call for a special session.

One relative of a deceased Highway 12 motorist said, “We elect our officials to get the job done. They didn’t do it.”

Hertaus said the Highway 12 Safety Coalition worked “to understand what is going on out here” and to see where fatal crashes are occurring. He was one of the authors of a bill to address these problem areas, including intersections of Highway 12 with County Roads 90 and 92 North and South. A problem area between Wayzata Boulevard and County Road 6 would get a safety median.

“This is the last section of rural highway in the metropolitan area with metro volume,” he said. “We know it needs to be improved in the long term but we need to address these immediate needs. We understand we don’t have millions of dollars to rebuild the whole road.”

Daudt and several other speakers called Highway 12 between Delano and Wayzata the deadliest stretch of road in the state. Crashes have killed 23 people on Highway 12 in the past five years, according to WHPS.