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 moving minnesota through employee communication
 December 5, 2001
No. 40 
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This week's top stories
Innovation creates well-managed highway, bridge system for Minnesota
Projected budget deficit doubles
Travel information available to wireless callers at 511
Hutchinson crew gets down to nuts-and-bolts after crashes litter Hwy 7 with spilled hardware
Maintenance marvels make news in national media
Employees face health insurance decisions during open enrollment
New Web site features highway information
 Innovation creates well-managed highway, bridge system for Minnesota

25th anniversary logo

Editor's note: This is one in a series of articles looking back on the department's first 25 years-remembering the people, issues and cultural forces that have shaped the agency and the milestones Mn/DOT has achieved.

B/w photo of man in hard hat, with construction crew in background

Al Wothe, then resident engineer at Detroit Lakes, supervises a reconstruction project on Hwy 59 near Fergus Falls. Staff photo

Highways still carry the eye to the horizon—as well as carry people, products and myriad services to just about anywhere imaginable. Nearly everything else about the state’s highway system, though, has changed since Mn/DOT’s formation 25 years ago. Changes emerged in the way roads and bridges are planned, built and maintained.

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 and TEA 21 in 1998 brought changes in the way roads are prioritized, financed and planned. Environmental requirements made a significant impact. Technology continues to transform all phases of highway construction, bridge design, maintenance practices, materials selection and countless other highway applications.

"When Mn/DOT was created in 1976, we were still building the interstate highway system; now we’re rebuilding the system we built 25 to 30 years ago," said Mike Marttila, state construction engineer.

Martilla notes, however, that now things in highway construction are very different.

"We have more automation and fewer people," he said. "And contractors now have more responsibility, such as doing staking and assuring that asphalt, concrete and other materials meet quality and other design standards."

Added Don Orgeman, contract administration engineer: "We used to use transits and chains to do surveying. Now some surveying is based on the global positioning system."

2 men with living snow fence

Paul Walvatne (kneeling), Environmental Services, and Charles Marsden, transportation generalist at Austin, inspect trees and shrubs planted along I-90 near Dexter designed to stop and hold blowing snow to prevent drifts from reaching the freeway. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Marttila and Orgeman said Mn/DOT supported other changes as well.

"We now offer incentives for contractors to finish their work ahead of schedule, not just penalties for being late," Orgeman said. "And we mandate better performance such as roads that are smoother and more durable and pay incentives for high-quality construction."

Both credit their colleagues in research who have developed higher quality materials such as the long-lasting asphalt pavement, SuperPave, and durable concrete pavements.

Construction officials say other changes also mark the construction landscape.

The increase in traffic makes getting work done more difficult and more dangerous. Some activity, especially in the Twin Cities metro area, is done in stages or at night and weekends to minimize traffic conflicts.

Amidst the changing landscape and new challenges, however, Mn/DOT completed scores of major highway projects during the past 25 years that strengthen the state’s principal transportation mode. Projects include completion of the interstate system, the rebuilding of the I-35E/I-94 commons area in St. Paul and the extension of I-35 through Duluth.

2 men on machine inspecting under a bridge at night

The Metro Division's Matt Ironi and Gary DeMorett perform bridge maintenance at night on a Twin Cities metro area bridge. Mn/DOT started night maintenance work in the Twin Cities in 1986 to reduce workers' exposure to heavy daytime traffic and to lessen the effect of maintenance work on drivers during the day. Photo by Kent Barnard

Bridge design undergoes transition

The business of designing and building bridges experienced major changes since 1976 as well.

Arlen Ottman, Bridges and Structures, said during Mn/DOT’s first years bridges were designed by hand with pens on stretched linen. Computers quickly changed that, however. Greater public concern with design and esthetics also changed the bridge building process. And bridge failures in other states during the 1960s and 1970s alerted Mn/DOT bridge designers about danger areas such as scour, (water washing away support piers) and girder failures—and the need to create designs to avoid them.

Public concern about esthetics led to design changes for the Lake Street Bridge that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul, the rebuilt Mendota Bridge and the Mantorville Bridge at Mantorville in Dodge County that complements other historic structures in the city. An increased awareness of other modes led designers to include bike and pedestrian lanes on bridges and to use bridges as a way to connect existing bike trails.

Mn/DOT engineers also found ways to extend the lives of bridge decks by using epoxy-coated rebar to resist rusting and using dense "low-slump" concrete overlays to stand up to heavier truck traffic.

2 men kneeling on bike path

Curt Turgeon and Roger Olson, then both with Materials and Road Research, check installation of asphalt mixed with recycled tires that was used to pave a bikeway in the Twin Cities metro area. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Research led to development of environmentally sound practices, such as no longer using paint containing lead and removing existing lead paint from bridges.

Another research product—pre-stressed concrete beams more than 150 feet long—gives increased flexibility at lower cost than steel beams. Pre-stressed concrete beams 155 feet long were used for the new Hwy 101 bridge at Elk River, for example.

Ottman and Ray Cekalla, Bridges and Structures, said the past 25 years also saw a peak in bridge building that created a legacy of transportation landmarks for future generations. Bridges they cite include the new bridge at Wabasha, the Richard Bong Bridge connecting Duluth and Superior, Wis., the gracefully arched Lake Street Bridge connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, the I-94 bridge over the St. Croix River, the Hwy 15 Bridge of Hope in St. Cloud and the Hwy 371 Bridge in Baxter.

Each structure, said Dan Dorgan, state bridge engineer, reflects good engineering, appreciation of the natural environment and a commitment to safety.

Man on a mower in Morris

A mower designed jointly by employees from the Morris Maintenance Area and the Tiger Corporation of Benson gets a field trial from Mitch Fett, transportation generalist, near the maintenance area headquarters. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Maintenance practices go high-tech

During the past 25 years, highway maintenance practices changed as well. By using information from sources such as Road/Weather Information System, maintenance forces can better anticipate snowstorms and other weather events. New "anti-icing" techniques allow crews to apply chemicals before a storm hits, reducing the amount of salt and time needed to clear roadways.

Snowplow trucks have become sophisticated places to work. Cabs are now full of sensors, monitors and controls that give drivers more knowledge about weather and road condition to help them make better decisions, noted Mark Wikelius, state maintenance engineer.

Market research, another recent innovation, gives maintenance managers a clear picture of the level of services Minnesotans expect and how to allocate resources to meet them.

"Historically we’ve done a really good job," said Mark Wikelius, state maintenance engineer, "and people expect a high level of service from us in areas such a snow removal. Knowing what they expect and what we can reasonably deliver is a major change and a major advantage."

Man repairing truck engine

Roger Wobschall, then a heavy equipment mechanic at Owatonna, performs repair work on a truck engine. Photo by Peter Winters

Information sharing grows exponentially

The past 25 years has also seen an explosion in information sharing on maintenance practices with other states and countries such as Norway, Finland, Sweden, Canada and Japan.

"We now have a much bigger peer group," Wikelius said.

Information sharing also marks highway-related research. Initiatives such as the Minnesota Road Research Project facility on I-94 near Monticello give researchers road performance data they can share worldwide.

Gerry Rohrbach, director, Materials and Road Research, said Mn/DOT’s past 25 years of innovation strengthened the "three-legged stool" needed to create high-quality, long-lasting projects—"design it properly, use good materials and build it right."

Man, woman in hard hats, talking

Patti Tix, then a construction inspector at Metro, meets with a contractor’s employee during the building of the new Lake Street/Marshall Avenue Bridge that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Jim Swanson, Program Delivery assistant commissioner and assistant chief engineer, said the efforts of "good, hard-working Mn/DOT people" made the department’s accomplishments in road and bridge work a success.

Swanson’s career started in 1968 when he was a highway technician building I-94 in St. Paul. He later became an engineer and managed projects such as the new St. Paul High Bridge. He was named Mankato district engineer and then assistance commissioner for Program Delivery.

"We thought we had seen the end of big projects with the end of the interstate system, but we just approved a $200 million design-build project in Rochester.

"Our projects are getting bigger and more complicated and faster moving. Fortunately, we have people here who are experienced and willing to work hard and new people coming in who are bright, smart and very knowledgeable. That bodes well for the future of Mn/DOT."

By Craig Wilkins


 Projected budget deficit doubles

Wallet with dollar bills, coins protruding

The state Finance department Dec. 4 announced a projected state budget shortfall of $1.95 billion, nearly double what officials had been expecting.

State Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock announced yesterday that Minnesota’s projected state budget shortfall is now $1.95 billion, nearly double what state agencies had been expecting.

The state’s biennial budget is about $27 billion.

At the annual meeting of the Concrete Pavers Association, held today in St. Paul, Assistant Transportation Commissioner Jim Swanson said that Mn/DOT knew a budget shortfall was coming. He said that the department has been working for two weeks on recommendations to reduce its General Fund expenditures by 5 percent and, if necessary, as much as 10 percent.

Swanson also noted that only a small percentage of Mn/DOT’s $2 billion annual budget comes from the General Fund, with the majority coming from the Trunk Highway Fund, which is dedicated to transportation.

"We are fortunate the we have already taken proactive approach on how we do business. For more than a year we’ve worked toward streamlining program delivery, realigning internal resources and deploying both our people and our funds more efficiently," he said.

Minnesota is among several states facing budget problems that economists say are caused by a national recession that started last spring and compounded by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Gov. Jesse Ventura has indicated that Minnesota’s deficit would be resolved through spending cuts, not tax increases, but that nothing will be ruled out.

Employees can expect more information next week when Mn/DOT and all state agencies deliver their recommendations to the Department of Finance.

By Jeanne Aamodt


 Travel information available to wireless callers at 511

Minnesotans can now access information on weather, road conditions and construction information simply by dialing 511 on their wireless telephones.

"We’re very proud to be among the first states in the country to launch this innovative and extremely helpful 511 service," said Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg. "It is an integral part of our national and state commitment to continually enhance safety, improve traffic management and enable the public to make wise travel decisions."

Tinklenberg chairs a national policy committee guiding the implementation of the service nationally.

By spring 2002, Twin Cities metro area traffic information is also expected to be available on 511. Voice activation and access via landline telephones are also being pursued. In the future, additional services on 511 may include public transit and tourism information. At this time, there is no extra charge for the 511 service outside of normal airtime or any roaming charges for wireless phone users. Nearly all of the wireless providers in Minnesota are participating.

Road conditions and construction project information can be found by selecting a section of road by segment or by mile-marker.

Information is updated as conditions change. Traveler information is also available on the Mn/DOT Web site, and by calling toll free, 1/800-542-0220 from both wireless and landline telephones.

For more information on the 511 service, contact Ginny Crowson, traveler information coordinator, 651/284-3454.

By Gail Gendler


 Hutchinson crew gets down to nuts-and-bolts after crashes litter Hwy 7 with spilled hardware

Two crashes involving a total of seven vehicles on a foggy section of Hwy 7 near Lester Prairie on Dec. 4 resulted in maintenance crew members setting up barricades and spending several hours cleaning up a semi-trailer load of nuts, bolts, screws and nails spilled during the mishap.

One person was critically injured in the crash and a State Patrol officer, Jon Paurus of the patrol’s Mankato District, was injured slightly.

Paurus was questioning a driver involved in the first crash when another truck collided with the patrol car. Both people had to be extricated from the vehicle and were treated and released from a nearby hospital.

The two crashes forced the closing of the Hwy 7 intersection with McLeod County Road 9 for several hours while maintenance employees used a magnet to collect the semi-trailer’s contents, which were spread 100 yards along the length of the roadway, said Dave Johnston, Hutchinson regional engineer.

The crashes involved the patrol car, a fire truck, four trucks and a car.

Lt. Dan Hilligoss, of the State Patrol, credited Mn/DOT crew members with a quick response time and diligence in directing traffic and clearing debris from the roadway.

"It was really nice seeing those big orange trucks coming down the road," he said. "They were out there as long as we were."

Crew members from the Hutchinson region who responded to the crash site include Al Barnes, Jerry Eggert, Al Moller, Kim Posusta, Bruce Schleuter and Roger Wersal.

By Craig Wilkins


 Maintenance marvels make news in national media

Man, woman in safety vest on bridge with traffic

John Scharffbillig, project manager, Metro Division, and Ia Xiong, Maintenance Operations Research engineer, check installation of the automated, de-icing sprayers on the I-35W bridge near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. When freezing conditions near, sensors activate the spray nozzles which cover the bridge with potassium acetate, a liquid de-icing chemical. Photo by Kevin Walker

Two Mn/DOT innovations bring national attention to Minnesota and Mn/DOT in the pages of two publications—the New York Times and Popular Science magazine.

The Times plans to publish a report in "Circuit," the technology section of its Dec. 6 edition describing the installation of a bridge de-icing system on the Brooklyn Bridge. The system essentially duplicates the de-icing system Mn/DOT installed on an I-35W bridge near the University of Minnesota in 1999. The New York City DOT will install its system in the spring.

Jerry Waldman, an official with Boschung Co. Inc., manufacturer of the spray system, said the New York installation will cover the length of the 5,000 foot-bridge; the Minneapolis bridge is about 2,000 feet long. The New York structure will use about twice as many spray heads as the 76 used on the I-35W bridge. Plans call for using the same de-icing chemical—potassium acetate—as used in Minnesota.

Ia Xiong, Maintenance Operations Research engineer, said the system works well to prevent ice from forming on the I-35W bridge, which spans the Mississippi River near a heating plant that releases clouds of water vapor.

The system performed well, she added, during the Twin Cities’ first major snowstorm of this season last week.

Interior of high-tech vehicle

A Mn/DOT snowplow truck cab shows some of the IVI equipment that improves vision for operators during low-visibility situations. The equipment includes the projector (at the back of the cab) that illuminates the heads-up display unit located in front of the driver. Photo by Dave Gonzalez

Another Mn/DOT innovation, the intelligent vehicle initiative test on Hwy 7 between Hutchinson and Minnetonka, earned notice in the December 2001 issue of Popular Science. The Hwy 7 test involves four snowplows, an ambulance and a State Patrol car.

The magazine describes the current field testing in low-visibility situations. Headlined "Let It Snow, a new plow has all the high-tech trimmings," the article describes aspects of the IVI test including forward-looking radar, an on-board global positioning system that locates the vehicle’s position within one inch, and a heads-up display that shows both obstacles and the road’s boundaries.

The heads-up display uses a transparent screen that makes the road and the display visible to drivers at the same time.

Describing the display system, the magazine quotes John Scharffbillig, project manager, Metro Division, as saying: "It’s like playing a video game in an 80,000-pound vehicle; looking through the display, it’s like the lines are freshly painted on the road, even in zero visibility."

Click here to view a copy of the Popular Science article (internal link only).

The October 2001 issue of the American Public Works Association Reporter also includes an account of the Hwy 7 IVI test. William Gardner, now with Freight, Railroads and Waterways, authored the article.

By Craig Wilkins


 Employees face health insurance decisions during open enrollment

Graphic of DOER Web site

Employees can learn more about health insurance options available to them by checking the Department of Employee Relations Web site. Open enrollment deadline is Dec. 14.

State employees have until Dec. 14 to select a health plan provider for the 2002 insurance year.

This year employees and eligible dependents will participate in a new health benefits program called the Minnesota Advantage Health Plan, which offers one premium rate to members, regardless of health plan provider. For full-time employees, that means a cost of $50.74 per month for family coverage; there is no monthly cost for single coverage.

For preventive care services, allergy shots, blood pressure checks and lab services, participants pay nothing. However, employees will share the costs of other services (such as office visits for illness or injury, emergency/urgent care and prescription drugs) through deductibles, copays and coinsurance. How much employees pay for these services depends on which of three cost levels their provider is at; Level 1 is the least expensive option.

More information about health insurance options is available on the Department of Employee Relations Web site. Click here for the most current provider directory.

In addition, Central Office employees can attend an open enrollment meeting Dec. 7 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Transportation Building cafeteria to learn more about the new program and to talk to plan representatives about various benefits. A sign language interpreter will be available.

The CO Fitness Center, G-23, will play a 30-minute open enrollment video through Dec. 14. The video will be shown every half-hour from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The video is also available for viewing at home. Contact your office manager or call the Office of Human Resources at 651/296-5400 for more information.


 New Web site features highway information

Graphic of TDA Web site

More than 300 traffic volume maps are available on the Office of Transportation Data and Analysis Web site.

Information about traffic volumes on a majority of Minnesota’s roadway systems is now at your fingertips on the Office of Transportation Data and Analysis Web site.

More than 300 traffic volume maps are available on the TDA site for instant viewing. Annual maps showing daily traffic counts on various road systems (the traffic volume maps) are also available in print and on CD through the map and manual sales office. Call 651/296-2216 for more information.

A record of all construction projects on the state’s trunk highways is also available online in the form of "Construction Project Logs." These logs are a virtual time capsule, listing highway construction work over the last 80 years. Projects are tracked by control section number—a system of roadway segment identifiers for monitoring construction funding.

Other products available include reference post maps and current traffic forecasts for selected projects.

Check out the site at


Minnesota Government links: Northstar | Governor's Office
Mn/DOT External Web site

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