February 14, 2007
Newsline Home Newsline Archives Print Newsline Submit News Feedback About Newsline iHub Home Web site

Table of Contents


Print Newsline
SELECT ALL or Click checkboxes below to select articles you wish to print.
Use your browser's Refresh Button to deselect all.

Frigid weather, early morning snowfall create icy havoc Feb 6

By Craig Wilkins

The Feb. 6 snowstorm that followed three days of below-zero temperatures created a set of difficult conditions for Mn/DOT highway maintenance crews in central and southern Minnesota.  

Intense cold, an earlier and heavier than predicted snowfall and the relentless flow of a Tuesday morning rush hour snarled traffic in the Twin Cities metro area for several hours.

The snow came in at 5:30 a.m. Although it was fluffy, heat from tires and vehicle exhausts warmed the road surface, which led to the snow’s melting and re-freezing as ice in many locations. In addition, temperatures near 20 below zero hampered the effectiveness of anti-icing chemicals.

The storm swept across the state’s mid-section. Snow accumulations ranged from two to six inches.

In Mankato/District 7, a house fire on the edge of Henderson forced closing Hwy 93, disrupting traffic and delaying snowplowing operations for hours.  

However, the storm’s most notable impact was a chain reaction crash on Interstate 35 near Elko.

At least four semi-trailers were involved in a series of crashes that damaged more than 40 vehicles. Many other vehicles at the site spun out or slid off the snow-covered highway. The crashes resulted in two people being seriously injured, said Todd Kramascz, operations supervisor at the Regional Transportation Management Center in Roseville.

Freeway traffic was detoured for several hours until tow truck operators, staff from Mn/DOT, the State Patrol and other agencies removed damaged vehicles from the area.

More than 300 vehicles were involved in storm-related crashes in the Twin Cities metro area. Hundreds more were involved in spin-outs, skids into ditches and other mishaps. Thirty-seven of the crashes resulted in injuries.  

Greater Minnesota crash totals were lower, due in part to lower traffic levels.

Seat belt prevents serious injury to snowplow operator in crash with semitrailer

Meryln Siem, a District 7 snowplow operator, walked away from his snowplow Feb. 12 after it was sideswiped by a semitrailer.

The crash occurred on Interstate 90 near Blue Earth.  

Dale Plemmons, Mankato/District 7 safety administrator, said that Siem’s use of his seatbelt prevented serious injury when the impact’s force caused the cab shield bar to penetrate into the cab, just a few inches away from the head restraint. He added that the left side of the cab shield was moved about five inches forward before it flexed back.

“Had our driver not been seat-belted, he could have been ejected into the roof or out the side or back windows during the impact,” Plemmons said. “The semitrailer driver was also seat-belted and was not injured. They both made the right decision to buckle up.”

Damaged snowplow

This District 7 snowplow received extensive side and front damage when it was sideswiped by a semitrailer truck Feb. 12. Mn/DOT's snowplow operator, Meryln Siem, escaped without serious injury. Photo by Dale Plemmons



Low-cost, effective living snow fences improve driving safety

By Craig Wilkins

Man knee-high in snow

Lonny “Poncho” White, Blue Earth truck station, visits a living snow fence installation at the Hwy 59/Hwy 60 junction near Worthington. Photo by Dean Lemickson

When a 100-foot section of a living snow fence along Interstate 90 died last year from excess moisture, Worthington ’s Larry “Poncho” White knew that the small gap it created would make a difference this winter.

The section was part of a snow fence 2,300 feet long planted with cedars, red twig dogwood, American plum and high-bush cranberry along the freeway just west of Worthington.

When a January Alberta clipper whipped fallen snow into the air, the difference was clear.

“The fence stopped the snow from blowing except for that one section,” White said. “Where the fence died, the wind blew the snow into a bleach-white line right out onto the freeway.”

White said the snow fence’s flooded section will be replanted this spring. A senior transportation generalist, White also serves as District 7’s snow fence coordinator.

The snow fences planted along state highways and freeways can capture hundreds of tons of snow. They reduce blowing snow that limits motorists’ vision and prevent heavy drifts that otherwise might take days to clear.

This year, Mn/DOT and its partners celebrated installation of the state’s 200th living snow fence, said Dan Gullickson, program coordinator, Office of Environmental Services.

Snow blowing across highway

This scene on Hwy 212 near Bird Island illustrates conditions that can occur when there are no fences to catch drifting and blowing snow. Photo by Dan Gullickson

Mn/DOT started the living snow fence program in 1998 by working with county farm extension agents, soil and water conservation districts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

Farmers and other landowners are paid by Mn/DOT for participating in the program and by the USDA if the snow fence is also part of the federal Continuous Conservation Reserve Program. The CCRP program includes more than 3,000 acres in Minnesota. Nearly 500 landowners participate in the program.

The snow fence program also includes payments to farmers who leave rows of corn stalks standing near roadsides through the winter months.

Gullickson said the payments for landowners are offset by cost savings for work hours, fuel and equipment often needed to remove heavy drifts.

Creating habitat for pheasants and other wildlife is another benefit from the program, according to Eran Sandquist, a wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever, a wildlife habitat advocacy group.

“The grass snow catch areas are especially valuable for nesting and brood rearing by pheasants and other birds,” he said.

Gullickson said the snow fences are very effective, but notes they reflect only one facet of Mn/DOT’s efforts to control drifting and improve safety.

Mn/DOT is now conducting a survey using global positioning system technology to locate and inventory snow traps in order to develop better measures to counter them.

“Our use of snow fences is part of a systemic plan that includes changes in ice and snow control methods and in highway design that will reduce the costs and hazards created by blowing and drifting snow,” he said.


Lisa Freese appointed deputy commissioner

By Jeanne Aamodt

Lisa Freese

Lisa Freese was appointed Mn/DOT's deputy commissioner, effective Feb. 7. Photo by Kim Lanahan-Lahti

Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau recently named Lisa Freese as Mn/DOT’s new deputy commissioner. She succeeds Doug Differt, who retired in December.

Freese, whose appointment was effective Feb. 7, will assist the lieutenant governor in developing and implementing policies, plans and programs for highways, railroads, commercial waterways, aeronautics, public transit and motor carriers; overseeing an annual $2 billion budget; and managing Mn/DOT’s 4,700 employees.

“Lisa brings 23 years of government planning expertise to this position and she truly understands the importance of transportation to the citizens of Minnesota and to our state and local economies,” said Molnau.

Freese most recently served as an Area Manager in Metro District where she managed the delivery of state road construction projects in Carver, Dakota and Scott counties. She had a key leadership role on projects such as the $238-million Hwy 212 design-build project and the Hwy 41 river crossing environmental impact statement, which involves studying the need and route locations for a new Minnesota River crossing and Hwy 169 connection to the new Hwy 212.

“I like the fact that Lisa has been out in the field working directly with other organizations and with local government. She has done the hard work and prepared herself well for this appointment,” said Molnau.

Freese said she is eager to build on the quality programs and innovations that Mn/DOT has pursued—local partnerships, in particular.

"When transportation is done right, when it’s planned in collaboration with stakeholders, it will support development and community building,” she said. “The process can build support for projects, create partnership opportunities and can even lead to local cooperation to advance or keep projects on schedule.”

On staff at Mn/DOT since 1999, Freese previously served in various planning positions. A veteran of local and regional planning, she came to Mn/DOT after having served at the local level with the cities of Eagan, Roseville, Rosemount, St. Paul and Johnson County, Kansas in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

Freese holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Iowa. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and served as executive board member of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association. In 2006 she was chosen “Woman of the Year” by the Women's Transportation Seminar.

She lives with her husband and two sons in St. Paul’s East Side neighborhood.


Central Office, Metro District safety programs merge

With the focus of simplifying and unifying safety functions for employees, the Metro District and Central Office launched a one-year pilot project that aligns each area’s safety functions into one program, according to Betsy Brown, Metro District Business Operations and Services director, and Mike Garza, Office of Civil Rights and Administrative Services director.

Effective Feb. 7, Metro District will provide oversight of the consolidated function. Julie Bottolfson, Metro District Safety Services supervisor, will oversee the new unit, whose charge includes reviewing existing safety policies and procedures.

The consolidation of safety functions does not affect workers’ compensation staff assignments.

The pilot project will be evaluated at the end of one year.


Break from winter plowing chores lets maintenance crews catch up on task lists, learn new skills

By Craig Wilkins

Man in Bobcat clearing brush

Using a specially equipped skidsteer, Joel Kroening, transportation generalist at Rochester, cuts brush along Hwy 52. Photo by Dave Redig

What do Mn/DOT maintenance crews do when the winter is warm and snow a very scarce commodity?

“Plenty,” said Beverly Farraher, the Metro District’s acting maintenance engineer.

Until Feb. 5, when Minnesota was hit with a one-two punch of bitter cold and snow, the state enjoyed what might be called an extended autumn. During the long reprieve from plowing snow and performing other winter-related duties, maintenance crews were doing a lot of different kinds of work. Some were learning new skills as well.

At Metro, maintenance forces expanded the district’s anti-icing coverage area for bridges and other areas prone to experience black ice conditions. Crews also used the time to replace toppled signs, and repair guard rails, crash attenuators and fences.

Other outside work included removing brush and cleaning drains, grit chambers and culverts and other parts of highway drainage systems.

Inside activities ranged from cross-training staff on equipment used in summer and performing annual and other maintenance work on equipment.

Winter’s late arrival also allowed maintenance employees to attend construction certification classes to prepare them to inspect construction projects.

At Golden Valley, Farraher said bridge crew members are repairing the boiler room floor, saving the state thousands of dollars.

2 men feeding wood chipper

Maceo Douandgy (at left) and Jason Polzin, run brush through a chipper during brushing operations on Hwy 52 south of Rochester. Both are transportation generalists at Rochester. Photo by Dave Redig

Similar situations prevailed in Greater Minnesota districts as well.

District 6 crews caught up with backlogged brush cutting and tree removal work on several highways in southeastern Minnesota.

“The warm weather was a godsend to us,” said Dave Redig, maintenance superintendent at Rochester. “We were able to catch up some on brushing, guard rail maintenance and even do some drainage repair work until the cold set in.”

Crew members also took advantage of the weather to remove 74 dead elm trees along Hwy 52 near Rochester.

The district received about 22 inches of snow so far this winter, Redig said. He notes, however, the snow accumulation was spread over many storms, some dropping only a fraction of an inch.

Jeff Butson, maintenance superintendent with District 8, said the mild early winter months allowed the district to do pothole patching and clear brush from road corners to improve sight distances. The bridge crew started two projects: building a new salt shed at the Litchfield truck station and installing tile on hallways at the district headquarters in Willmar.

2 men working in boiler room

Metro District bridge workers Pat Stoddard and Steve Matis adjust under-floor shoring for concrete removal before installing a new floor in the Golden Valley office’s boiler room. Photo by Michael Ramberg

When the bitter cold did arrive, Butson said district maintenance staff made the best use of it as well.

“Dennis Marty brought the Willmar sub-area crews together for a day to plan this summer’s work,” he said. “Here at Willmar we did safety and other kinds of training. It was just too cold to send people outside unless we really had to.”

Northern Minnesota maintenance forces also took advantage of the mild, early part of winter.

Tim Sheehy, District 1 maintenance superintendent, said district crews did patching, equipment maintenance and extensive brush cutting.

As in other districts, bridge crew members turned their skills to facility projects, including enlarging the salt storage shed at Hibbing.

The weather, he said, also allowed maintenance forces to attend scheduled training such as creating a respectful work place.

Sheehy said the light snow accumulation (six to 10 inches in most places) enables crews to clear ditches of vegetation now even though the region is experiencing bitterly cold temperatures.  

“It’s easier to get in there now than in the spring or in the fall—and there are no bugs,” he said.

Steve Lund, state maintenance engineer, said a significant amount of important work was accomplished that wouldn’t usually get done because crews were freed from plowing and other winter tasks.

Lund noted, however, that maintenance crews must stay alert regardless of weather conditions.

“Although we did experience a long run of mild winter weather, small but frequent snow storms like we’ve had earlier and other conditions always require due diligence,” Lund said. “Maintenance crews must be able to switch to snow-fighting work whenever weather and road conditions demand it.”


FIRST team members train to become certified first responders

By Craig Wilkins

2 men practicing medical training

Christopher Ludgate (standing) practices injury assessment techniques on fellow FIRST driver Paul Thoresen during first responder medical training. Photo by Paul Hayes, Minnesota State Patrol

Members of Mn/DOT’s Freeway Incident Response Safety Team are learning the basics of medical emergency response to highway crashes and other incidents. By the end of March, eight more FIRST drivers will become certified first responders.

They will join other team members who are now certified first responders, emergency medical technicians or paramedics.

FIRST’s primary mission is clearing damaged or disabled vehicles from Twin Cities metro area freeway system, but drivers often assist ambulance crews, State Patrol officers and others when crashes occur.

Frequently, FIRST crew members are the first to arrive at a crash scene.

John Lardy, a FIRST crew supervisor, said the drivers are learning the formal procedures they must know to assist emergency medical technicians, paramedics and others who respond to freeway incidents.

Team members have already completed training in defensive driving and high-speed evasive driving, he said.

FIRST drivers, Lardy said, have assisted in scores of crashes. He said, for example, a driver responding to a vehicle stopped on the shoulder noticed a very combative driver’s name tag. By calling the victim by her name, the driver was able to confirm that she was a diabetic.  

The driver quickly alerted medical responders who prevented her from going further into a diabetic shock episode.

“This training will provide our drivers with knowledge about the formal procedures they must know to assist emergency medical technicians, paramedics and other medical staff,” Lardy said.

Lynda Goerisch, a paramedic and instructor at Century College, White Bear Lake, said the 44 hours of formal training will enable FIRST members to help keep crash victims alive until more assistance arrives.

“The drivers are learning to perform injury assessments, clear airways and perform CPR,” she said. “Class members are also learning to recognize life-threatening situations such as electrical hazards, knowing when to initiate medical care procedures and the proper techniques to transfer patients to EMTs and paramedics.”

Goerisch said the drivers will also carry portable equipment including defibrillators to aid motorists who suffer cardiac arrest.

“This training supports the FIRST drivers’ pivotal roles as first responders both in providing medical assistance and their expertise preventing additional vehicle involvement and further injury to people involved in crashes and other emergency situations,” Goerisch said.  


Mobility assignments: An opportunity to contribute to Mn/DOT in new ways

Rick Kostohryz

Rick Kostohryz is an information technology specialist in the State Aid for Local Transportation Division. He recently returned from a seven-month mobility assignment in the Office of Transit. Photo by David Gonzalez

Rick Kostohryz, an information technology specialist in the State Aid for Local Transportation Division, has worked for several state agencies in his 25-year career in state government. He took his first mobility assignment 15 years ago when he was working for the Department of Labor and Industry. He joined Mn/DOT in 1994.

A year ago, I was working in the State Aid Division managing our applications and Web site.

I was content with the kind of assignments I had and enjoyed the people I worked with, but when Bob Works and Darryl Anderson from the Office of Transit stopped by and offered me an opportunity to spend a few months in their area, I said ‘yes.’ Yes to learning about a new area in Mn/DOT, and yes to helping promote a cause I believe in.

By ‘new area,’ I do mean new. Just a few months before, SAFETEA-LU (the federal transportation funding bill) was signed into law. Among other things, the legislation provided money to establish a Safe Routes to School program. As a proponent of regular physical activity, I thought this was a great way to help encourage a healthy lifestyle for children by providing them with a safe environment to walk or bike to school.

Professionally, my seven-month mobility assignment allowed me to apply skills I already had to a subject area that was new to me. I built a Web site and database from scratch to collect data from grant proposals submitted by local governments and school groups. I also helped train teachers and local officials in the grant application process at workshops we set up for them.

In exchange, I learned a lot about pedestrian and safety issues. I also learned that there’s some cross-over between the SRTS program and what State Aid does—including administering federal grants to local governments and other entities—so I wasn’t in entirely unfamiliar territory.

It’s been a great experience to be part of a program from its beginning, and I appreciate the opportunity to contribute beyond my knowledge of information technology, including helping to establish standard operating procedures for the program. It’s rewarding to see the projects people are coming up with for providing safer bike and pedestrian routes for kids.

I’m back working in State Aid, although half of my time is still spent working on SRTS applications. A unique twist to this mobility arrangement is that Kristie Billiar, the SRTS program coordinator, has relocated to the State Aid work area so we can continue working together and she can become more familiar with the federal aid process.

For more information:

SELECT ALL or Click checkboxes above to select articles you wish to print.
Use your browser's Refresh Button to deselect all.