After more than a decade of planning, a 4.5-mile portion of U.S. Highway 212’s four-lane expansion has begun.

Stretching from Cologne (Highway 36) to Carver (Highway 11/Jonathan Carver Parkway), the long-awaited road with current safety concerns should be operable by fall 2022 thanks to full funding. The second phase, from Norwood Young America to Cologne, is expected to score funding in the next several years.

It’s a locally led project on a state road, which is highly unusual for a National Highway System road such as this, Carver County Division Director and County Engineer Lyndon Colebrook-Robjent said.

“(The county) took it upon themselves to fix it and figure out a way to get it done,” he said.

Though falling only in Carver County, the portion is expected to benefit people from all over, including communities west of the Twin Cities such as those in McLeod County. The project has been a focus of District 18B Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen and District 18 Sen. Scott Newman for years.

“Seeing 212 completed has been my No. 1 transportation priority since I’ve been at the Legislature,” Gruenhagen said during a ground-breaking ceremony for the project last week. “I’ve chief-authored a funding bill for 212 all nine years I’ve been up there, and fortunately, I have to pinch myself, we’re finally here today to see the beginning of this.”

"I am pleased from a public safety standpoint and from an economic standpoint,” Newman said about the project in an email. “It's very important to the state of Minnesota.”

“We have one step left,” he added, “the portion from Bongards to Norwood Young America. We absolutely have to get that done.”

Built in 1929, growth has propelled the need for more lanes. According to Colebrook-Robjent, more than 2,000 semitrailers traverse the stretch each day. Many truck-car crashes lead to serious injuries or fatalities, he said. In the past 11 years, 11 people have died on Highway 212 within the two-project span. That’s roughly one a year.

“That’s pretty bad. That's considerably higher than the state average,” Colebrook-Robjent said.

Plans include four reduced-conflict intersections. They prevent people from crossing the highway, leading to  cars side-swiped by semitrailers, which has become all too common.

The intersection of Highway 284 and 212 in Cologne is one of those, built in 2008 and proven successful thus far, Colebrook-Robjent said.

“None of the local roads that connect 212 now will you be able to go straight through. That's unique in that it’s a relatively new safety measure,” he said.

GROWTH ACROSS THE REGION

At the groundbreaking, Carver County Commissioner John Fahey said the project will soon support farmers and agricultural industries “immensely.” It increases reach: Food and products will soon travel across Minnesota, the U.S. and world with more ease, he said.

Cities should see a thumbs-up impact, too.

“Expanding this highway brings economic growth to our smaller cities here in western Carver County and beyond,” Fahey said. “We all know Highway 212 is a great asset — a lot of us probably here in this great place in Carver County — but to the entire state and region.”

Now that funding is a go and road work has begun, up next on the docket is adjusting property that runs along the highway.

Since the roads are getting wider, the county bought a few parcels of land from residents and farmers, Colebrook-Robjent said. That includes at least one barn, a house and some other buildings.

There won’t be any noise walls like berms since homes are few and far between along that part of 212. They’re common along freeways, but this is labeled as an expressway.

In addition to the four-lane expansion, highway pavement will be upgraded and the highway portion in Dahlgren Township will see realignment.

All that construction means travelers can expect a few things, according to the county: Road work. Short delays on weekdays 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Trucks hauling materials on nearby county highways. A May-to-June Kelly Avenue closure between Highway 212 and County Road 140.

But perhaps met most-highly with relief? There won’t be any Highway 212 detours.

After this segment is complete, proponents of Highway 212 expansion are crossing their fingers to reach the finish line for phase two.

“We really need (the Legislature) to help us fund the last gap, which is another 5 miles from Cologne to Norwood Young America,” Colebrook-Robjent said. “It needs to be done. We’ve done one. We hope that the next won’t take another 11 years.”

Amy Felegy is a reporter for the Leader's sister newspaper, the Chaska Herald.