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  moving minnesota through employee communication October 30, 2002    No. 83  
  This week's top stories
 Popular Northstar Commuter Coach service tops ridership forecast
 Maintenance announces relocation of Central Servicesí functions
 SMT okays Corporate Business Group organizational development plan
 Sales tax-related purchasing freeze remains in effect
 Gates divert freeway-bound traffic during severe weather
 Governor to meet Mn/DOT employees in Central Office Oct. 31
 Morey named Surveying and Mapping director
 Budget constraints require canceling 2003 Transportation Conference

 Popular Northstar Commuter Coach service tops ridership forecast

 North Star bus rider

Mn/DOT acting Commissioner Doug Weiszhaar (left) queries a North Star Commuter Coach passenger about his experiences. Photo by Sue Stein

At the end of its first year of operation, Mn/DOTís Northstar Commuter Coach service between Elk River and downtown Minneapolis exceeded initial ridership projections according to Transit Director Donna Allan, who called it a model for future commuter service development.

Ridership grew to about 50 percent of capacity within its first few months of operation, Allan said. Since Labor Day, use has increased to 60 percent of capacity. The new service carries about 550 passengers each day along the 30-mile route in the Hwy 10 corridor, which is the regionís most heavily traveled commuter route.

Eight buses run during the morning and afternoon peak hours Monday through Friday. The buses offer reclining seats, reading lights, plug-ins for laptop computers and other amenities. A survey conducted in May 2002 showed that 94 percent of riders were satisfied with the service. Twenty-seven percent of the passengers formerly drove alone, the survey revealed.

The Northstar Commuter Coach was created as a demonstration project to show the publicís willingness to use transportation options. It is the first such service operated by Mn/DOT.

"Customers have told us that they want, safe, time-predictable trips and this service offers just that," said Doug Weiszhaar, acting commissioner. "It also demonstrates that there is a demand for transportation choicesóif you offer options, people will use them."

Funding for the project will end in September 2003 unless the Legislature appropriates more funds to continue the service.

For more information, visit the North Star Web site at www.commutercoach.org.

By Sue Stein


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 Maintenance announces relocation of Central Servicesí functions

The Office of Maintenanceís Central Services functions will move from the Fort Snelling facility to new locations by January 2004.

On Oct. 22, the Senior Management Team determined the Central Services core functions will move to the following locations:

  • Fleet Maintenance
    The fleet maintenance function will relocate to an existing Metro Division site.

  • Snowplow Fabrication
    The snowplow fabrication function will relocate to the Mn/DOT district maintenance facility in Bemidji. The newly built facility provides the unit with the necessary space for a successful snowplow fabrication operation.

  • Fleet Management
    Fleet management, which comprises fleet administrative services and fleet purchasing, will be located in the Metro area, possibly in the Central Office.

  • Electrical Services Section
    Both Metro and centralized ESS functions will relocate to a new joint Metro/City of North St. Paul facility. Mn/DOT will lease space until the facility is available.

"We looked at several options, from using existing Mn/DOT and Greater Minnesota facilities to partnering with local groups to build a new facility, but our first priority was to provide sites that would allow employees to perform their duties in a safe and timely manner," said Mark Wikelius, state maintenance engineer.

The Office of Maintenance is working with the Office of Human Resources and the unions to determine the best way to accommodate employees during this transition.

For more information about the relocation of Central Services, visit their Web site. The site will be updated as additional information becomes available.

By Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo


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 SMT okays Corporate Business Group organizational development plan

Expect to see a few changes in the Corporate Business Group in future months as the group develops a plan for expanding and improving the financial information and services it provides.

Kevin Gray, group director and Mn/DOTís chief financial officer, presented his vision for the new financial organization to the Senior Management Team, which approved the recommendations Oct. 1.

"I want to ensure the Corporate Business Group is positioned from a resource and organization perspective to meet the future challenges and expectations of the groupís customers and stakeholders," Gray said.

The recommendations include:

  • Incorporating the activities of business planning and activity-based budgeting into the permanent organizational structure

  • Improving the groupís ability to provide financial information, better forecast economic needs and improve customer responsiveness

  • Improving staff use and better aligning human and fiscal resources with the groupís strategic plan

  • Ensuring consistency with the departmentís strategic concept of the distributed product/service model articulated in Shaping Our Future

An implementation team will develop specific plans for the organizational changes during the next couple of months, with implementation expected to begin in January 2003.

Organizational study

The recommendations are based on the results of an organizational study of the Corporate Business Group conducted in July. The project teamóincluding staff from the Corporate Business Group, Human Resources and Management Operations Group Administrationóexamined the current work of the group and interviewed several of its key customers and stakeholders. In addition, the team reviewed the organizational design and scope of six other state departments of transportation and compared them to Mn/DOTís.

Contacting other transportation departments confirmed that there is no consistency in organizational structures from state to state, said Eric Davis, Human Resources.

Interviews with customers and stakeholders provided useful information for the project team, he added. Customers reported a general satisfaction with the current daily interaction and service they receive from group employees, but indicated a preference to permanently align business planning activities and budgeting activities, and expressed a recurring need for consistent, reliable and just-in-time financial reports.

In addition to meeting with SMT, Gray presented the organizational study results and development plan to the Administrative Resource Team on Oct. 23. He also met with Corporate Business Group managers and supervisors in mid-October to review the study results, clarify the vision of the new organization and seek feedback on the proposed changes.

The Corporate Business Group currently is composed of two officesóFinancial Management and Financial Planning and Analysisóthat together employ about 70 employees, all of whom are located in Mn/DOTís Central Office.

By Chris Joyce


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 Sales tax-related purchasing freeze remains in effect

A departmentwide freeze on purchases on which Mn/DOT must pay the state sales tax remains in effect.

The freeze results from conflicting state laws concerning Mn/DOTís payment of the state sales tax. One statute requires sales tax payment by state agencies; another stipulates that monies from the Trunk Highway Fund cannot be used to pay the state sales tax.

The Legislature had provided a special fund that allowed Mn/DOT to use it instead of Trunk Highway Fund cash to pay the sales tax. Those funds, however, have been spent.

Typically, Mn/DOT pays sales tax on purchases such as computers, office supplies, furniture and janitorial supplies.

Jim Kinzie, Financial Management, notes that significant progress has been made to resolve the issue and that a solution is near to resolve the current freeze.

"Until that time," Kinzie said, "we would appreciate your continued effort in operating within the guidelines of the freeze."

By Craig Wilkins


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 Gates divert freeway-bound traffic during severe weather

 Owatonna snow gate

Darren Wencl and Roger Moreland, Owatonna, install a gate on an entrance to I-35 to restrict freeway access during severe storms that often strand motorists. Photo by Larry Kruckeberg

Bad weather has often stranded motorists and passengers on Minnesotaís highways, as their Mn/DOT and State Patrol rescuers can attest. The need for this service in southeastern Minnesota could decrease considerably, however, now that Rochester/District 6 plans to install eight gates on southbound entrance ramps to I-35 in Steele and Freeborn counties.

The new snow gates will help keep traffic from entering the freeway during winter storms or other severe weather conditions. The gates are manually operated and are similar to other snow gates used on I-94 and I-90.

"Heavy snow, icy surfaces or whiteout conditions force us to close southbound I-35 south of Owatonna every year," said Wes Smith, Owatonna maintenance area superintendent. "In the past, we had to pay to have local police and fire departments keep the ramps closed while our crews cleared the freeway. Now a closed gate can serve the same purpose."

Smith said staffing a ramp for one six-hour closure last year cost $5,600. The price for all eight new gates was $2,500.

Stranded vehicles create safety hazards and delay opening roads to traffic. These delays also increase costs for shippers and consumers. If the stranded vehicles are not blocking travel lanes, then Mn/DOT and the State Patrol will leave unoccupied vehicles alone until weather and traffic return to normal.


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 Governor to meet Mn/DOT employees in Central Office Oct. 31

Gov. Jesse Ventura will speak briefly with Mn/DOT employees from the Metro Division and the Central Office at 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 31 in the Transportation Building cafeteria. Doug Weiszhaar, acting commissioner, will also speak.

All employees from the Central Office, other Capitol complex offices and the Metro Division are invited to attend. Participants should arrive in the cafeteria by 9:20 a.m.

Refreshments will be served.

Videotaped copies of comments by the governor and the commissioner will be available through the Mn/DOT Library beginning Nov. 1.


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 Morey named Surveying and Mapping director

 Rick Morey
Rick Morey is now the director of the Office of Land Managementís Surveying and Mapping Section. Photo by Denny Brott

Rick Morey was appointed as director of the Office of Land Managementís Surveying and Mapping Section. Morey succeeds Dave Gorg, who retired. Before his appointment, Morey served as a principal land surveyor with the Metro Division at Golden Valley.

In his new role, Morey will manage the Geodetic, Geographic and Mapping, Survey Research and Support, Land Information Services, Legal Descriptions and Platting, Land Information and Right of Way and Mapping units.

A native of Minneapolis, Morey holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and has completed coursework in surveying at Inver Hills Community College. He is currently pursuing a masterís degree in geographic information systems at the University of Minnesota.

Morey may be reached at 651/296-5710.


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 Budget constraints require canceling 2003 Transportation Conference

Due to budget shortfalls, Mn/DOT will cancel the 2003 Transportation Conference scheduled for February. The decision stems from Mn/DOTís ongoing efforts to find ways to reduce costs and use its resources most effectively.

Another factor affecting the decision is Mn/DOTís hosting of the 2003 national conference for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in the Twin Cities next September. The AASHTO conference will require extensive Mn/DOT participation in planning, coordination and execution.

"On one hand, we are constantly looking for ways to use our people and resources more wisely," said Doug Weiszhaar, acting commissioner. "On the other, next year in September we will be actively involved in a large, national transportation conference that will require a substantial commitment of people and resources.

"After analysis, it became clear that it would not be a good business decision to conduct both events, especially during a period when we are looking for ways to do more with less," he added. "The AASHTO conference is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Mn/DOT and Minnesota and it clearly is a priority event."

The AASHTO meeting will attract transportation professionals and leaders from across the United States. Mn/DOT will evaluate the possibility of holding a transportation conference in 2004 later next year.

By Gary Pettis


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