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April 12, 2006    No. 180
  This week's top stories
 Work crews battle floods of 2006 with determination, hard-earned experience
 Completing last section of I-35E in St. Paul posed major test for Mn/DOT
 Commitment to environmental excellence reaps rewards
 Metro District earns laurels during annual Salt Symposium
 Drive to Excellence staff will host two 'brown bag' sessions in April

 Work crews battle floods of 2006 with determination, hard-earned experience

Flooded bridge
Rising floodwaters from the Red River of the North covered approaches to the Sorlie Bridge in East Grand Forks, one of many bridges closed between Minnesota and North Dakota during flood conditions. (The bridge that carries Hwy 2 between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, N.D. remains open.) Photo by Terry Sorenson

Sounding more than a bit weary, Terry Sorenson reported on April 11 that the last two sections of highway in his sub-area had just reopened to traffic.

Sorenson serves as supervisor for the Bemidji District’s southwest sub-area, an area hit hard by flooding from the Red River of the North and other streams and rivers.

He said that two sections of Hwy 75 that had been closed for several days near Climax and Shelly are now open although some are still covered by a few inches of water.

That’s good news in the region where many roads and bridges remain closed since flooding began in late March.

The floods moved steadily northward with the river’s flow, covering roads, washing out shoulders, and closing bridges as they advanced.

Mn/DOT crews worked with those from cities and counties, National Guard troops and hundreds of volunteers in response to the flooding.

Waters well above flood stage brought dark memories of the devastating 1997 floods, but dikes, floodwalls and other measures helped reduce effects from flooding.

Crews, trucks on road
District 4 maintenance and sign crew members rebuild a section of Hwy 108 near Pelican Rapids damaged by pooled water caused by rain and snow melt. They hauled in rock and aggregate to raise a 1,500-foot section of the road five feet above the water level. Photo by Bill Hanson

At Breckenridge, for example, a channel dug by the Corps of Engineers diverted the flow of the Otter Tail River east of town to avoid its meeting the waters of the Red in the city. The diversion worked, preventing a replay of the city’s devastation in 1997, which damaged District 4’s truck station as well as several employees’ homes.

This year, flooding in the city was minimal.

When floodwaters began to recede in the western part of the district, road crews started the task of repairing damaged shoulders, opening once-flooded roads to traffic and, in some cases, rebuilding damaged roads.

When high waters peaked, crews worked around the clock to erect barricades, sign detours and flag motorists through water-covered highways, said Dennis Redig, district maintenance superintendent.

Redig said crews also rebuilt damaged sections of Hwy 108 near Pelican Rapids and Hwy 34 near Dunvilla caused by snow melt and rainwater. The affected areas lack drainage outlets, he said, and pooled water washed out part of the roadway.

Maintenance and sign crew members hauled in rock and gravel to rebuild 1,500 feet of the roadway to raise it about five feet above the water.

He added that water covered many roads in the region, requiring workers to direct traffic through those areas around the clock for several days.

All roads in District 4 are now open, Redig said.

Lee Berget, district engineer at Detroit Lakes , estimates costs to repair damage from the floods will range from $400,000 to $500,000.

2 men sandbaggin road
Charlie Hoff (in the loader) and Dave Larson, both transportation generalists at Crookston, load sandbags used to secure temporary detour and warning signs on flooded highways. Photo by Linda Swenson

As the flooding moved north, crews from District 2 bore its brunt. Flood waters from the Red River, the Wild Rice River and other streams forced widespread road and bridge closings. Overland flooding isolated some cities such as Oslo and Halstad when roads such as Hwy 1, Hwy 200 and Hwy 220 were closed.

Sections of other highways such as Hwy 75, a major north-south route, were closed; others were passable but often covered by water.

Sorenson said road crews worked constantly for nearly two weeks dealing with the flood and its aftermath. Although there is obvious damage to pavements and shoulders, he said that the full extent of damage won’t be known until early summer.

Parts of highways in the district’s northwestern corner remain closed as of April 12. They include Hwys 1, 11, 171, 175, 220 and 317. Hwy 75 is closed between Hwy 171 and the Canadian border.  

District officials noted that this spring’s floods were far less damaging than those in 1997. They said new dikes, flood walls and other measures prevented major flooding in cities such as Breckenridge, Moorhead and East Grand Forks.

While grateful for less severe flooding than in 1997, which severely damaged his home near Ada, Sorenson said this year’s floods “become sickening after a while, because the picture is so familiar.”

He said one constant among the floods of any year is the commitment of the people in his sub-area and the districts to bear up under constant pressure and exhaustion from dealing with the situation day after day.

“Sometimes we called people out two or three times during the day and we worked nights and weekends for nearly two weeks,” he said. “These events show the quality and dedication of our staff,” he said. “They always come through for us.”

By Craig Wilkins


 Completing last section of I-35E in St. Paul posed major test for Mn/DOT

Building the final section of Interstate 35E in St. Paul posed a major challenge to Mn/DOT’s plan to complete the eastern half of the I-35W/I-35E freeway pair in the Twin Cities metro area.

The section between the Capitol and Hwy 5 (Shepard Road) was extremely controversial from its very beginning.

The roadway follows the river bluffs in the city. Where it leaves the Capitol Interchange, the parkway follows the footprint of the bluffs below historic Summit Avenue.

Construction worker
A construction worker installs a section of guard rail for the new Lexington Avenue bridge on I-35E in St. Paul. Photo by David Gonzalez.

Many residents of the Summit Hill area opposed the project, citing noise, traffic and pollution. So did many others, including businesses, area hospitals and St. Paul city officials.

Opponents lobbied the Legislature, filed lawsuits and won injunctions that delayed the project for nearly two decades.

The stalemate ended with pressure from the Federal Highway Administration to finish the system, Mn/DOT’s wish to complete the contested section and, eventually, negotiations that resolved the long-standing dispute.

Accounts from Mn/DOT employees and retirees about the project are vivid. They recall the protests, the long delay and the outcome from negotiations among leaders from the FHWA, Mn/DOT, the city of St. Paul and the area’s residents and business community.

The talks produced plans for a parkway limiting speeds to 45 miles an hour, banning trucks weighing more than 9,000 pounds and providing extensive landscaping in the median to soften the roadway’s visual impact. The plans included accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians as well.

Crown unveils a cake
Bakers unveil a cake frosted to mark some of the city’s oldest landmarks and one of its newest—the I-35E Parkway—in 1989. Mn/DOT photo archive

There was no standard design for a parkway-style freeway, so Mn/DOT adapted St. Paul’s Lexington Avenue Parkway as a model.

The final section of I-35E was opened to traffic in 1989. The opening ceremony drew former Gov. Rudy Perpich and other notables. There was also a cake that included replicas of I-94, the Capitol, the St. Paul Cathedral, River Centre and the route of the new parkway.

At last, the section existed in concrete and in frosting, until the hundreds of celebrants devoured the cake and, perhaps, their misgivings about the long-contested project.

For more information about building I-35E and the parkway’s new Lexington Avenue bridge, visit the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system at: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/interstate50/.

By Craig Wilkins


 Commitment to environmental excellence reaps rewards

Man in culvert
Gary Waletzki, a Rochester/District 6 transportation specialist with bridge maintenance, adjusts sandbags at the culvert inlet to prevent water from running over a plastic liner inside that prevented leakage. The Office of Environmental Services recognized the project for its innovative methods. Photo by Dwayne Stenlund

Accomplishments in protecting the state’s environment recently earned honors for several Mn/DOT employees.

They were cited by their peers for innovative practices to safeguard the environment in processes such as pre-design, road construction and winter maintenance operations.

The honors were presented during Mn/DOT’s Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining Workshop held in March.

The Office of Environmental Services initiated the awards this year to recognize departmentwide environmental stewardship.

“We established the award program to honor—and encourage—district efforts in design, construction, maintenance and overall environmental stewardship,” said Frank Pafko, Environmental Services director.

Duluth/District 1 was honored for its long-standing commitment to the environment while rebuilding Hwy 61 along the North Shore of Lake Superior. Its accomplishments include building a new bridge and improving the rest area at Gooseberry Falls and working with the Department of Natural Resources to create the adjacent Tettagouche State Park along the Lake Superior shore.

The district was cited for retaining historic design themes in new structures, innovations such as traffic calming and its design of new rest areas along one of the nation’s most scenic highways.

Efforts that included building an extensive drainage system to protect Green Lake and other lakes and streams near Spicer when rebuilding Hwy 23 between Willmar and New London earned plaudits for Willmar/District 8. District staff built 38 drainage ponds and monitored them constantly to ensure that sediments did not affect the area’s water resources.

The Metro District earned recognition for designing the Hwy 169/Anderson Lakes Road interchange in Bloomington to preserve an adjacent oak savanna. The project also includes stepped retaining walls, added mature vegetation and design features to complement the savanna.

Innovative methods used by a maintenance crew to stabilize slopes during installing a double-box culvert brought recognition for Rochester/District 6. The district’s bridge crew and the St. Charles truck station were called on to do the work to avoid delaying a previously scheduled mill and overlay project on Hwy 30 near Rushford last summer.

With direction from the district hydraulics engineer and Environmental Services, crew members used chain link fencing fastened with rebar and other improvised methods to control erosion while installing the culvert. The district also worked with the Department of Natural Resources to build a graduated rock arch to limit effects from water dropping five feet from the culvert into the stream.

One workshop participant, Metro District pre-design engineer Glen Ellis, said it helped him keep up to speed on environmental issues.

“It was great to learn about the latest thinking on the environment and to see how we put that thinking into practice,” he said.

By Craig Wilkins


 Metro District earns laurels during annual Salt Symposium

Mark Dilling
Mark Dilling, a heavy equipment field mechanic at the Metro District’s Spring Lake Park truck station, earned recognition for innovations and constantly improving the effectiveness of anti-icing systems. Photo by David Gonzalez

The Metro District’s Golden Valley truck station and an employee at the district’s Spring Lake Park truck station earned honors during the Road Salt Symposium held April 5 in St. Cloud.

The symposium focused on equipment, strategies and materials developed and tested by Mn/DOT and other agencies to improve the effectiveness of using salt for snow and ice control.

Sessions included those examining the effects of de-icing chemicals on the environment and measures to reduce them.

Mn/DOT speakers included John Scharffbillig, who addressed future equipment development, and Wendy Frederickson and Kathleen Schaefer, who discussed more effective ways to maintain parking lots and sidewalks during winter. All are with the Office of Maintenance.

The Freshwater Society, Fortin Consulting, Inc., and the Center for Transportation Studies’ Local Technical Assistance Program sponsored the event.

Symposium sponsors honored staff at Golden Valley for cutting salt use, using a 1,000-gallon tank mounted on a flatbed truck to apply anti-icing chemicals before storms hit and improving teamwork when planning winter storm response tactics.

The station reduced maximum output settings on its salt spreaders from 900 pounds of salt per lane mile to 500 pounds. Dewayne Jones, Golden Valley supervisor, said winter operations met standards and the amount of salt released into the environment was significantly reduced.

Mark Dilling, a heavy equipment field mechanic at Spring Lake Park, was cited for his sustained efforts to improve pre-wetting systems. He has made pre-wetting systems more efficient and easier for snowplow operators to use.

Dilling installed operator-controlled switches in the auger system to stop chemical flow when stuck in traffic and to adjust it when spot sanding. He also installed lights that inform operators when the pre-wetting system is active. These innovations enable operators to use the minimal amount of chemicals needed for the job, avoiding overuse and reducing environmental effects.

By Craig Wilkins


 Drive to Excellence staff will host two 'brown bag' sessions in April

Drive to Excellence logo
Two Drive to Excellence "brown bag" information sessions are scheduled in April for state employees.

State employees can get an update on the governor’s Drive to Excellence initiative, an overview of what is happening next, and have an opportunity ask questions during two 'brown bag' information sessions offered April 18 and April 20 from noon to 1 p.m. in St. Paul.

Dan McElroy, senior advisor to the governor on innovation, and Kathy Sibbel, Drive to Excellence program director, will be the presenters.

State employees are welcome to make suggestions for the initiative and are encouraged to get involved in the various workgroups.

The April 18 session will be held in the Skjegstad Room in the Stassen Revenue Building, 600 North Robert St. The April 20 session will be held in the St. Croix Room in the Centennial Office Building, 658 Cedar St.

For more information about the initiative, see: