Nov. 14, 2007
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Snowplow sidewinder: Experimental ‘tow plow’ packs double-fisted punch

By Craig Wilkins

Tow plow truck

When not in use, the tow plow is pulled behind a Class 35 tandem-axle snowplow like a regular trailer. The plow is not equipped to dispense liquid anti-icing chemicals. Anti-icing equipment will be added next year if the initial tow plow test is successful. Photo by David Gonzalez

Like a scorpion coiling to strike, Mn/DOT’s newest plow swivels out from behind a snowplow truck to double its lane coverage in one pass.

Known as the tow plow, the full-length, trailer-mounted blade will be used this winter on a section of Interstate 94 between Maple Grove and Monticello.

The new plow will add more plowing punch on heavily traveled freeway sections where quick removal of ice and compacted snow is crucial.

The plow is 26 feet long. It can be rotated as much as 30 degrees from the right side of the snowplow truck.

The tow plow field test is sponsored by the Maintenance Operations Research Section and the Metro District. The plow costs about $60,000.    

Minnesota is the first state in the Upper Midwest to put the plow in operation.

Tow plows are currently being used in Canada and in the St. Louis metropolitan area by the by the Missouri DOT.

Man next to tow plow truck

Tim Winkels, a Metro District heavy equipment mechanic, checks out a snowplow truck that will pull the new tow plow. Photo by David Gonzalez

Norm Ashfeld, a Metro District maintenance superintendent, said Metro and the Baxter/St. Cloud District will operate the plow jointly.

“We’ll test it to determine how well the plow moves snow and see if we can use one less operator in multiple-plowing situations,” Ashfeld said.

The plow will aid in other experiments, he said, including additional tests of rubber plow blade edges. Tests held last year were inconclusive for rubber edges on main plows, but operators reported they did well on wing plows.

Ashfeld said the rubber edges performed well on shoulders because they apparently had more “bounce” when plowing irregular shoulder surfaces and ditch in-slopes than standard steel-edged blades. The rubber edges, he said, helped prevent plows from getting snagged or damaged by rough surfaces.

Linda Taylor, Maintenance Operations Research director, said testing the tow plow and using it as a platform for other field trials supports Mn/DOT’s efforts to apply new technology to its operations.

“Technology continues to evolve,” Taylor said. “This test and many others now under way will help us adapt changes in technology to improve the services we deliver.”

Winter Hazard Awareness Week: Nov. 12 - 16

Each year the National Weather Service and the Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management promote winter safety and individual preparedness for all citizens through a week dedicated to winter hazard awareness.

This year, Winter Hazard Awareness Week is Nov. 12-16.

Mn/DOT’s Winter Work Zone Safety Web site provides winter driving and safety tips, information on snow and ice control and downloadable art for promotional use.

Mn/DOT also encourages county and city governments across the state to tap into the Web resource. In an e-mail issued this week to cities and counties, Deputy State Aid Engineer Rick Kjonaas urged local governments to include the Winter Work Zone Safety link on any public Web sites.

"Mn/DOT has developed a useful Web site with important public safety messages. Consistent, statewide use at all levels of government will raise public awareness and improve the safety odds for both drivers and snowplow operators," he said.

For more information on Winter Work Zone Safety, visit the Mn/DOT Web site at

A variety of seasonal safety information is available at, the Winter Hazard Awareness Week Web site.



Tractor crash closes Hwy 258 bridge near Comfrey in District 7

By Craig Wilkins

Hole in bridge deck

Compression from the force of the tractor’s hitting the bridge dug several grooves into the bridge deck. One groove resulted in a 3” by 14” hole in the deck. Photo by Scott Morgan

A farm tractor pulling a chemical dispensing bar struck the Hwy 258 bridge near Comfrey early Nov. 11, causing district officials to close the bridge until a final damage assessment is made.

The 1 a.m. crash gouged a hole in the bridge deck and damaged the portal truss (the first member perpendicular to the road) and other parts of the bridge.

The incident was reported in connection with an anhydrous ammonia spill at the site.

Officials said the spray bars are usually about 62 feet wide fully extended. When folded for transport, the spray bars extend to about 17 feet high, too high to pass under the bridge.

Impact from the crash sheared six rivets from each side of the portal truss which severely bent the truss. Other damage includes bending of cross braces and vertical truss members at each end of the cross brace.

The farm equipment cut several grooves in the deck, including one that knocked out a piece of concrete below. A hole in the deck that measured 3” by 14” inches resulted.

Scott Morgan, District 7 maintenance operations engineer, said he and other district officials decided to close the high-truss bridge which is rated as structurally deficient and carries a low sufficiency rating. The bridge was constructed in 1947.


The crash sheared off six rivets on each side of the bridge’s portal truss. Photo by Scott Morgan

“We spent a lot of time out there Sunday morning,” Morgan said. “Our consensus was to err on the side of caution and close the bridge.”

Morgan and Ron Gaffke, a senior transportation specialist from Windom, diverted traffic from 10 a.m. until maintenance crews placed barricades and established a detour.

“Damage to the bridge may be much worse than it looked initially because of the structure’s age and condition,” Morgan said.

About 1,100 vehicles use the bridge each day. The detour through Springfield on Brown County roads adds five miles to the route.

“Staff from the Bridge Office will make the decision whether to reopen the bridge or not,” Morgan said. “If the bridge is reopened, I think it may be limited to loads well under 80,000 pounds.”


First of ‘sidewalk talks’ for I-35W bridge draws small, engaged group

By Chris Joyce

Bridge construction site

Seen from the 10th Avenue bridge in Minneapolis, the construction site for the new I-35W bridge on Nov. 10 was busy with crews drilling a test shaft on the north side of the Mississippi River. The Minneapolis downtown skyline is seen in the distance. Photo by Chris Joyce

A smattering of neighborhood residents, University of Minnesota students, news media and Mn/DOT folks trooped across the 10th Avenue bridge in Minneapolis the morning of Nov. 10, taking part in the first of the ‘Sidewalk Superintendent Talks’ scheduled weekly for the new Interstate 35W bridge replacement project.

The 10th Avenue bridge, adjacent to the I-35W bridge site, provides a good view of the construction work, which that day consisted of drilling a test shaft on the north side of the river. Temperatures hovered in the 30s and several members of the group clutched steaming cups of coffee. One hundred feet below, the Mississippi River was covered in white froth from its churning current and looked a little like a mocha cappuccino itself.

Peter Sanderson and Bob Edwards from Flatiron-Manson, the bridge contractors, were there to field questions about the new bridge and address the concerns from area residents about the construction work that will take the next 13 months or so to complete.

Group of people on bridge

A dozen or so neighborhood residents, University of Minnesota students, news media and Mn/DOT folks listen to Peter Sanderson, Flatiron-Manson project manager (in vest and hard hat), as he talks about the bridge project on Nov. 10. Photo by Chris Joyce

One of the first questions came from the youngest member of the group, a four-year-old boy who was accompanied by his father.

“How did the bridge fall down?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Edwards, who is the Flatiron-Manson construction manager. “That’s a good question.”

Other questions were a little easier to answer, like whether the grade of the freeway leading up to the bridge will change or whether there will be much dust and airborne debris during construction. A structural engineering student from the U of M, who spent time conversing with Edwards, walked away with a lead on a potential internship next summer.

The talks are one of many ways Mn/DOT and Flatiron-Manson plan to keep two-way communication open with residents, businesses and other Minnesotans throughout the project, according to Kevin Gutknecht, a Mn/DOT project spokesman.  

People interested in a weekly in-person update on the construction project are invited to join Flatiron-Manson representatives at 11 a.m. every Saturday at Washington Avenue South and 19th Avenue in Minneapolis. For more information, visit the Mn/DOT Web site at or call the 35W Bridge Hotline at 612/236-6901.


ATV crash claims life of District 1’s Tim Sheehy

Tim Sheehy

Tim Sheehy, maintenance superintendent with Duluth/District 1 at Virginia, died Nov. 1 from injuries he sustained in an all-terrain vehicle crash. Photo courtesy of District 1

A memorial service will be held Dec. 1 to honor Tim Sheehy who died Nov. 1 from injuries he sustained in an all-terrain vehicle crash.

The service will be held at 2 p.m. in the Messiah Lutheran Church, Hwy 169, Mountain Iron.

Sheehy’s survivors include his wife, Kim, and sons Alex and Brandon.  

Sheehy served as the maintenance superintendent with Duluth/District 1 at Virginia.

He was 51.

No one who knew Sheehy would be surprised to know that he died the way he lived and worked: going full-bore at something he loved.

Co-workers expressed very similar descriptions of Sheehy and his career with Mn/DOT. They cited his energy, passion, resourcefulness and leadership, especially in critical situations.

"Tim Sheehy was one of these special people who just made things happen. He had a great passion for Mn/DOT, the work we do and the people he worked with,” said Jim Swanson, district engineer at Mankato.

Sheehy served as the maintenance supervisor at Le Sueur from 1995 until 1999. His career with Mn/DOT started in 1983 with his appointment as a highway maintenance worker at Erskine in District 2.

He held positions in Rochester (where he was promoted to supervisor), Detroit Lakes, Virginia and Mankato. He returned to Virginia in 1999. In 2002, he was appointed as the Duluth District’s maintenance superintendent.

“Tim’s positive attitude and willingness to share his ideas will be greatly missed. We would all like to offer our condolences to his family and let them know our hearts are with them,” Swanson said.

Mike Robinson, Duluth district engineer, said Sheehy was totally committed to serving Mn/DOT’s mission.

“Tim not only excelled doing normal maintenance leadership activities, he was also exceptional during times of crisis—winter storms, flooding and forest fires. Tim was always accessible, day or night, and helped our field operations in every way possible,” Robinson said.

“Our whole district is saddened by this tragic loss, and we appreciate the statewide support that has been expressed to us and to Tim’s family,” he said.

Sheehy’s charge-ahead style was well-known.

“Tim was one of those people who never said ‘no,’ he was active in maintenance operations, research or whatever,” said Duane Hill, assistant district engineer for maintenance operations and Sheehy’s supervisor. “It was hard to keep up with him. Tim would often make decisions that I would have to catch up with later.  

“He would call me every day between 6 and 6:30 a.m. when I was still at home or on the way to work to review the day’s work plan; even now when my phone rings during that time I still expect it to be him,” Hill said. “Tim was a very important part of our district; we will miss him very much.”


On the job:  From receptionist to district administrative manager, Chris Johnson changes with the times

By Craig Wilkins

Group of people at table

Chris Johnson (far right) participates in a workplace violence prevention session in St. Cloud in October. Johnson has served as the Bemidji District's administrative manager since 1994. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Chris Johnson arrived at Mn/DOT’s door in 1986 with a secretarial associate’s degree, a job as a receptionist and a desire to do well and keep on learning.

Johnson chose fertile ground for learning and growing. She began her career as a receptionist at the Bemidji District headquarters, using the district’s tuition reimbursement plan to earn a bachelor’s degree in office management from Bemidji State University in 1992.

Johnson now serves as the district’s administrative manager, a post she has held since 1994. (She worked for one year with the Ninth Judicial Court District using her expertise in training and development, organizational development and human resource management.)

In addition to her regular duties, Johnson serves on the District Operations Information Technology Managers Group and the statewide transportation specialist series labor-management team.

How were your first years at District 2? Who were your mentors?

My first years were spent in the basement of the old headquarters building. I was given opportunities to take mobility positions and to try new things. People were always willing to teach me, help me and give me a chance.

Many people took me aside and gave me feedback about how I might do things differently. They were willing to be frank—when someone tells you ‘Look, you’re really screwing up here; pay attention and do it this way,’ one makes changes quickly.

I had great mentors: Mary Lyverse for training and organizational development; Jane Johnson in human resources and Steve Baker in leadership.

How does their influence affect the way you approach your job?

Oh, in many ways. One way is how crucial communication is to resolve conflict. Another is how important it is to value the contributions made by every employee. We also need to be clear about our values and how to live up to them. Those values include respect, accountability and safety.

And because we have a small administrative staff, we have to continually look for ways to improve, change and use technology to ensure that we deliver great customer service and achieve the desired results.

How would you say administrative functions have changed since your career began?

They have changed immensely due to technology, mobility and other factors. Technological change has redefined how we work. We can do work from many locations, do work in different ways and drop many of things we were once required to do. We’ve made many changes, implemented new systems and we’ll continue to advance.                                    

What, if anything, remains constant?

In their heart of hearts, I believe Mn/DOT people are people of good character who have a strong desire to do a good job. That hasn’t changed. I’m proud to be a part of District 2, proud of the people who work here and of the values we share.  

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Hwy 212 project in Chanhassen wins safety award

3 people standing outside

Charlene Zimmer (at left) of Zumbro River Constructors; Charles Cadenhead, Hwy 212 project manager, Deputy Commissioner Lisa Freese and other staff celebrated a safety and health award from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry for the Hwy 212 project.

The Nov. 8 celebration was held on the new Powers Boulevard Bridge over the highway in Chanhassen.

ZRC earned the agency’s Safety and Health Recognition Program for creating a comprehensive safety and health program and compiling a safety record that includes 1.2 million work-hours without a lost-workday incident since the project’s start in August 2005.

Hwy 212 was the first highway work site to garner the award. Photo by David Gonzalez

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