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 April 11 , 2001 No. 9
This week's top stories
Mn/DOT crews once again face threats of major floods
HOV lane bill passes House committee
Construction season highlights need for work zone safety
Schedule set for district employee meetings
Brown named Metro’s director of Business Operations and Services
Walz named training manager
Public Safety declares April 16-20 severe weather awareness week
Question of the Week
 Mn/DOT crews once again face threats of major floods

With eyes looking toward rising river crests and weather forecasts predicting rain, Mn/DOT maintenance forces are working intently with other agencies to blunt the force of flooding rivers that threaten a replay of the 1997 floods which devastated vast areas of the state.

Mankato district, clearing log jam from a bridge

A contractor using a backhoe loosens a jam of logs and other debris that threatened damage to the Hwy 19 bridge at Henderson.

Mn/DOT representatives now help staff the State Emergency Operations Center run by the Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management, which coordinates flood-related activities statewide.

Bob Vasek, operations support engineer, Maintenance, and liaison with the SEOC, said no major damage on the trunk highway system has been caused by the flooding although several sections are or have been covered by water.

Flooding has forced closing parts of several state highways in several regions of the state, including Southeastern Minnesota, Northwestern Minnesota, the Twin Cities area, the Minnesota River Valley and Isanti County and Pine County in Northern Minnesota.

The sections of highway closed or covered by water changes constantly with the flood conditions, he noted, making it difficult to predict when flooded roads may open or have to be closed.  

The state’s highways are threatened by further flooding from the Mississippi, Minnesota and Red rivers as well as overland flooding stemming from swollen creeks and tributaries.

The downtown St. Paul airport is threatened by rising waters from the Mississippi River. Mn/DOT moved its aircraft to adjacent airports, reports Dan McDowell, public affairs coordinator, Aeronautics.

Mankato district, front loader in water

Peter Pink, transportation generalist at Metro's Jordan Truck Station, supports the Mankato bridge crew's successful efforts to break up a logjam in the Minnesota River at Belle Plaine by using a drag line to pull the jam apart and free the trapped logs.

Mn/DOT crews have been working since last week to cope with rising waters. In some areas, the almost-routine work entails erecting barricades to close flooded highways, directing traffic and scraping mud when floodwaters recede. In other instances, the work becomes tinged with drama.

Plowing debris

In Southeastern Minnesota, Rochester District crews from Caledonia, Houston and LaCrescent were “plowing debris” as it floated over the roadway on Hwy 16 near Hokah to keep the water-covered road open to traffic. Crews from Stewartville, Preston, Spring Valley and Rushford responded to mud slides and cleared tree limbs felled by high winds on Hwy 250 near Preston. Hwy 250 also suffered shoulder washouts. High winds also toppled traffic signs in the region, adding to the situation’s intensity.

Brian Jergenson, public affairs coordinator in Rochester, reports that vandals either stole or tossed cones and barrels into the water at Preston, creating a potentially dangerous situation for travelers.

Battling logjams

At Henderson and Belle Plaine, the bridge crew from the Mankato District battled logjams that threatened to damage bridges over the Minnesota River. The crew used a boat to attach winch lines to the logjams to break them apart so they would flow down the river without causing damage to the bridges.

Ironically, the logs are the remnants of trees felled by another disaster—the 1998 tornado that caused extensive damage in St. Peter, according to Rebecca Arndt, public affairs coordinator, Mankato District.

Without the crew’s quick action, the logs could have caused extensive scouring of the bridges’ piers, causing serious damage and requiring extensive repair work. The crew placed riprap (loose stones) at the bridge piers to prevent additional scouring from floating debris.

In the Twin Cities Metro area, rising waters from the Minnesota River forced closing the Hwy 101 bridge between Shakopee and Hwy 212 and Hwy 41 between Hwy 212 and Hwy 169. Rising water on the St. Croix required closing the Stillwater Lift Bridge at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

Holding their breath

Submerged buildings near Wheaton

Buildings are submerged by flood waters near Hwy 27 southwest of Wheaton.

In west central Minnesota, crews from the Detroit Lakes/Morris District have been working around the clock placing signs, cones and barrels to close several sections of highway or to remove them as floodwaters recede. Highway sections that remain closed include Hwy 27 from Browns Valley to Herman, Hwy 55 between Barrett and Hoffman and Hwy 75, 12 miles north of Breckenridge.

At Breckenridge, crews from Breckenridge, Alexandria and Fergus Falls are working intensely to resist the crest of the Red River moving north. They have been hauling sand for sandbags, helping build dikes and monitoring the condition of Hwy 75, which is closed north of the city.

“Right now,” said Dan Peterson, Alexandria maintenance supervisor, “they’re just holding their breaths and waiting for the water to push through.”

The crew from the Breckenridge Truck Station, he added, has evacuated the building after surrounding it with sandbags. Crew members are working out of their trucks in close coordination with the emergency operations center there until the flood crisis passes. Breckenridge crew members, he added, have taken breaks only to prepare their own homes for flood conditions.

Peterson said water flooding overland from the east has receded, but the possibility of one to two inches of rain falling Tuesday night and this morning poses great concern in the battle against the floods.

In Isanti County north of the Twin Cities, floodwaters from the Rum River forced closing Hwy 47 at the West Point Bridge two miles south of Hwy 95. Traffic is detoured on county roads. Duluth District authorities closed Hwy 123 between Askov and Standstone in Pine County due to high water from Bear Creek.

The state’s northwestern corner also faces a flood threat. In the Bemidji District,

Hwy 317 and Hwy 220 near Oslo are closed as ice jams on tributaries cause overland flooding. Terry Sorenson, maintenance supervisor at Crookston, said floodwaters in many areas are now receding, leaving behind some roads with shoulder washouts.

“Right now we’re putting gravel on Hwy 200 and Hwy 9 where we’ve had shoulder damage,” he said.

The Crookston area escaped major damage from flooding Sunday when ice jams caused the level of the Red Lake River to rise about six feet in just a few hours.

But the waters receded there and at other locations as well. “Things are looking better,” he said.

Closing highways

Damaged road near Wheaton

The Mustinka River damaged the road, shoulders and edge drains on Hwy 27 east of Wheaton. Normally, the river is 500 feet from the highway at this point.

In southwestern Minnesota, Mn/DOT crews from the Willmar district closed several highway sections—including parts of Hwy 212 and Hwy 29 at Montevideo—to allow for dike building and pump stations. The floods of 1997 caused extensive damage in that city and in Granite Falls. Crews from the district are making preparations to respond in case floodwaters threaten bridges over the Minnesota River.

"We anticipate losing a river crossing today (Wednesday) on Hwy 40 near Milan and Hwy 75 south of Madison to water over the road," reports Sandy East, public affairs coordinator in Willmar. She added district officials are tracking other situations, including Hwy 212 between Montevideo and Granite Falls, Hwy 67 at Granite Falls and portions of Hwy 212 at Glencoe where flooding is imminent.

Vasek said the fast-changing flood situation is difficult to predict, making it imperative for people to stay informed on the latest developments.

“Beyond what we’ve been doing locally, Mn/DOT hasn’t been called on to assist with statewide resources yet,” he said.

Vasek and Kent Barnard, Office of Communications and Public Relations, participate in a daily agency briefing at 1:30 p.m., followed by a media briefing at 4 p.m. 

To keep abreast of the changing flood situation, see Mn/DOT’s road and weather conditions Web site, the TripUSA alerts site or the Division of Emergency Management site.

By Craig Wilkins
District 4 photos by Myron Riley
District 7 photos by Rebecca Arndt


 HOV lane bill passes House committee

A bill that would allow all traffic to use the Interstate 394 high occupancy vehicle lanes during a six-week study period passed the House Transportation Policy Committee April 10.

Letters from the Federal Highway Administration and Gov. Jesse Ventura oppose the bill. The FHWA has said it would withhold federal funds for Twin Cities metro area projects if Mn/DOT opens the HOV lanes on I-394 (“…even for the period of a study…”) without FHWA’s prior evaluation and approval. 

In his letter, Ventura reiterated his support of the state’s Moving Minnesota plan, which includes the “advantages for transit” that HOV lanes offer car pools and buses. He concluded, “We don’t need to damage the good things we are doing to reduce congestion by doing a ‘shutdown’ study that also results in stopping the construction of much needed transportation projects in the metro area.”

The bill passed the Senate Transportation Committee in March.

Click here to see the March 21 Mn/DOT Newsline article on this issue. For more information about legislative issues affecting Mn/DOT, contact Joe Hudak at 651/297-5149, click on Mn/DOT’s weekly legislative summary or check out its Government Relations Web site.


 Construction season highlights need for work zone safety

Work zone safety--cars on the freeway

With the 2001 spring and summer construction season upon us, travelers will encounter hundreds of projects from pothole repair to major construction projects as they travel throughout the state.

Once again, Mn/DOT is putting its work zone safety campaign into gear. Using the theme, “See Orange. We’re in the Work Zone Together,” the campaign reminds motorists that traveling through a work zone requires drivers to keep distractions to a minimum. Between 1960 and 1999, Mn/DOT lost 28 workers killed in the line duty.

“We put a lot of pride in providing smooth roads to travel because their families and friends use them too,” reports Mark Wikelius, Mn/DOT state maintenance engineer.

“A work zone is a dangerous place, I can’t stress enough how workers appreciate drivers’ patience, courtesy and compliance with posted work zone signs.”

Tips for driving safely in work zones include:

  • Drive the posted speed limits—fines in work zones double.

  • Plan ahead. Be aware of work zones along your route and give yourself extra travel time.

  • Stay alert and expect the unexpected.

  • Watch for workers and their equipment.

  • Follow vehicles at a safe distance (four-second rule).

Check out the Work Zone Safety Web site for more information. The site is in development, with plans to add interactive kids pages soon.

 By Mary Meinert, work zone safety coordinator


 Schedule set for district employee meetings

‘Tis the season for the annual district employee meetings—beginning today for District 6 in Rochester.

These meetings allow district employees to hear from and talk to their district engineer, members of Mn/DOT’s executive team and co-workers from other truck stations and offices in their district. Typically, employee meetings include presentations and information about safety, insurance, new equipment, etc.

The dates scheduled for the other employee meetings are:

  • April 12—District 3, St. Cloud

  • April 24—District 8, Willmar/Marshall/Hutchinson

  • April 25—District 3, Brainerd

  • April 26—District 2, Bemidji/Crookston

  • April 30—District 1, Duluth/Virginia

  • May 1—District 4, Detroit Lakes/Morris

  • May 2—District 7, Mankato/Windom


 Brown named Metro’s director of Business Operations and Services

Betsy Brown, Metro Division

Betsy Brown, new director of Business Operations and Services in Metro Division.

Metro Division has appointed Betsy Brown as director of its Office of Business Operations and Services. Brown has served as acting director since November 2000. In her new position, she will lead Metro’s financial, human resources, management information and public affairs sections.

Brown joined Mn/DOT in 1976 as a management analyst. She has served in a variety of positions, including as training director, deputy director of communications, program director for engineering services division and assistant to the deputy commissioner.

Brown graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in English. Her office is located at the Waters Edge building in Roseville; she can be reached at 651/582-1164.

By Sue Stein
Photo by Kevin Gutknecht


 Walz named training manager

Cathy Walz, Mn/DOT's new training manager

Cathy Walz, Mn/DOT's new training manager

Cathy Walz recently was appointed Mn/DOT’s new training manager after acting in that capacity for a year. She joined Mn/DOT in 1998, coordinating the human resource reengineering effort and later serving as acting director of the Office of Quality prior to its integration into the Office of Human Resources.

Walz has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the College of St. Benedict and a master’s in human resource development and training from St. Cloud State University.

As training manager, she will be moving the section from a traditional training function toward the areas of learning and organizational effectiveness. The section’s focus is department-wide learning initiatives such as leadership development, performance management, and new employee orientation.

Walz’s office is in Room 567of the Transportation Building. She may be reached at 651/296-3101.

By Sue Stein
Photo by Dave Gonzalez 


 Public Safety declares April 16-20 severe weather awareness week

The Department of Public Safety has designated the week of April 16-20, 2001 as Severe Storms Awareness Week, according to Rita Hutton, Mn/DOT’s central office safety administrator. 

Mn/DOT’s central office is not planning any severe weather drills, although on April 19 sirens will sound statewide at 1:45 p.m. and at 6:55 p.m. in order to focus attention on readiness for severe weather at work, school and home, Hutton said. 

Knowing what to do when severe weather threatens is important, she added. Public Safety has an emergency management Web site that contains helpful information about preparing for tornadoes and severe storms, as well as links to additional resources.

The site, for example, offers these tips from the American Red Cross to prepare for severe thunderstorms:

  •   Keep an eye on the sky.  Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind.  Listen for the sound of thunder.

  • When a thunderstorm approaches, find shelter.  Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.

  • If you are caught outdoors, go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects.

  • Stay tuned to your local television and radio stations for updated information.  Know the difference between a thunderstorm watch and a thunderstorm warning.

  • For additional information, contact your district’s safety administrator; central office employees may contact Hutton. Click here to go to the National Weather Service Web site.


 Question of the Week

Money, planning for future money, and reputation/visibility were hot topics for attendees at the March 7 Commissioner’s Forum. Click on Question of the Week to read Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg’s answers to questions such as: “How will the challenge pool affect our budget?” and “What about our next round of business planning?” 

Along the way, the Commissioner discusses some of the political dialogue going on during this legislative session, gives a taste of how Mn/DOT is viewed by other state agencies in Minnesota, and provides an update on his activities on the national scene. 



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