April 10, 2008
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New Hwy 23 bridge in St. Cloud added to 2008 construction line up

By Jeanne Aamodt

News conference

Acting Commissioner Bob McFarlin outlines Mn/DOT's 2008 construction plans at a news conference in Minneapolis April 10. It was one of four cities he and State Bridge Engineer Dan Dorgan visited to make the announcement. Deputy Commissioner Lisa Freese and Tim Henkel, Planning, Modal and Data Management Division director, flew to three other cities. In addition, the district engineers highlighted the top projects in their area for the season at the news conferences. Photo by David Gonzalez

A new Hwy 23 DeSoto bridge in St. Cloud is among 135 new highway and bridge projects Mn/DOT announced April 10 as part of its annual construction kickoff. The projects, valued at $441 million, are being bolstered by $216 million in accelerated projects and other programs.

“We’re looking forward to another solid construction season,” said Bob McFarlin, acting commissioner. “This year’s projects follow-up on the three largest road construction seasons in the history of the state. In 2008 we will move forward on a number of road and bridge projects, increase maintenance on state roads, enhance transit and begin a new congestion relief project in the Twin Cities Metro area.

“Mn/DOT is poised to have a great summer of accomplishment with several major projects being completed and others beginning,” he said.     

The St. Cloud bridge, along with a resurfacing project on Interstate 90 in Mower and Olmsted counties and the “triangle” project on Hwy 169 and County Road 81 in the northwest Twin Cities area, have been advanced to the 2008 construction season from 2015, 2009 and 2009, respectively.

Twenty-eight additional highway and bridge projects valued at $549 million, including replacing the Hwy 61 bridge in Hastings, will be accelerated in 2009 and 2010.

News conference

The crowd gathered at the news conference in St. Cloud April 10 applauded when they heard the news that the recently closed Hwy 23 DeSoto would be replaced in 2008 instead of its originally scheduled 2015 date. Bob Busch, District 3 transportation engineer, also shared with them news of other district construction projects that will be underway this season. Photo by Paula Gustafson

“We have established a goal of getting the Hastings bridge under contract by June 1, 2010,” McFarlin said. “Achieving this objective will require significant cooperation from our local, state and federal partners. We are confident that cooperation will be forthcoming and the goal will be met.”

Highlights of the 2008 construction season include the anticipated completion of major projects originally advanced by the Pawlenty-Molnau bonding program in 2003. These include:

  • Hwy 10 realignment in Detroit Lakes
  • Hwy 34 reconstruction in Park Rapids
  • I-694/I-35E Unweave the Weave reconstruction north of St. Paul
  • Hwy 212 in the southwest Twin Cities area

There also are about 20 carryover projects, like the I-35W/Hwy 62 Crosstown reconstruction in the Twin Cities, begun in previous years.

“The volume of the work on our roads and bridges is an impressive contribution to the state economy. It underscores our determination to deliver results for Minnesota taxpayers,” said McFarlin.

For more information on the state construction program visit


Maintenance crews take on massive pile-up from April snow storm

By Craig Wilkins

Man interviewed near snowplow

Don White, a senior transportation generalist at Detroit Lakes, speaks with a TV news reporter following the massive snow storm. Photo by Judy Jacobs

Virginia, the Queen City of the North, was belted by a king-sized blast of snow that covered northern Minnesota on April 6-7.

Virginia received 32 inches, the heaviest snowfall recorded in the state. Snow accumulations reached two feet or more in other Iron Range cities and all across most of the state’s northern tier.

Mn/DOT districts scrambled maintenance crews on Sunday to take on the storm initially predicted to bring an eight- to nine-inch accumulation. But the snow kept on falling, as fast as one or more inches per hour in some locations.

Bob Wryk, District 1 maintenance superintendent at Virginia, said the dense snow compacted quickly.

“We threw everything we had at it—underbody plows, loaders, scrapers and a little chemical. We didn’t want to use too much salt because temperatures in the 30s were in our favor and helped melt the snow quickly,” Wryk said.

Wryk credited warm temperatures and his crews’ hard work in returning district highways to service.

“I just moved up north from the Metro District to Bemidji in 2006 and over here in March,” Wryk said, “but even the veteran maintenance people said this storm is a very unusual event.”

Patrol officers keep motorists from passing plows in District 4

Don White, a senior transportation generalist at Detroit Lakes, said his crew at Detroit Lakes had to suspend operations occasionally due to poor visibility.  

“It was hard to see through the windshield at times because the snow was coming so fast, and that was during the daytime,” he said.

From time to time, White said, State Patrol officers followed the plows to keep truckers and other motorists from passing them.

When drivers got ahead of the plows, he said, many would get stuck in the middle of the road or slide off onto the shoulder.

Bemidji snowfighters also battle fallen trees, branches

Truck plows snow

A District 2 worker clears a crossover on Hwy 2 east of Bemidji. Photo by Karen Bedeau

In District 2, Don Holt, a sub-area supervisor at Bemidji, said the storm started with rain on the evening of April 5 while he was patrolling near Walker.  

“The rain turned to sleet and then to snow and slush,” Holt said. “By the time I got back to Bemidji we had a full-scale snowstorm going.”

The dense snow dropped as much as 26 to 29 inches of snow in parts of the district, creating a major league challenge to the district’s maintenance forces.

Holt alerted his crews at midnight on April 6, urging them to use as little salt and other chemicals as possible.

Trees that collapsed from the snow collected in their branches in many locations, adding to the stress of clearing roads in the hard-hit district. Crews often had to stop and clear fallen trees and branches before they could resume plowing, Holt said.

“Many of the roads in our district are in national forests which limit our options as far as trimming the trees back,” he said.

Holt said the district’s efforts to regain service on its roads drew positive comments from the public, the State Patrol and the news media.

Heavy snow recharges groundwater, lakes and rivers

The storm created a lot of stress and overtime, but Wryk sees at least one silver lining from all those snow clouds.

“The storm brought the equivalent of two or three inches of water,” he said. “That’s good for recharging our lakes, streams and rivers.”

District 4’s White marveled at how fast the roads went from being covered with compacted snow to bare and dry.  

“We had road temperatures in the 60s and air temperatures in the 30s, which really helped us a lot,” he said.

White said no one in the district is going to take their plows and sanders off soon.

“The roads are clear right now,” he said, “but there’s another storm predicted for Thursday, so we’ll just have to wait for that.”


Workshop applies key concepts of cost estimating to newly funded projects

By Darlene Gorrill

When Peter Harff left the April 3-4 peer review workshop, he took with him a list of items that, once he investigates them further, will help him better define the scope and cost estimate for an upcoming project.

More than 70 district engineers, assistant district engineers, project managers, estimators and representatives from the offices of Bridges, Technical Support, Land Management, Materials and Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations, joined Harff, project manager from District 7, at the workshop.

They came with the same mission—to take a closer look at scoping and cost estimates for proposed fiscal year 2009 and 2010 projects to be advanced as part of the recently approved transportation funding package. They also began to apply some aspects of the department’s Cost Estimation Process and Organizational Integration Project.

“We want to define the scope of these projects as well as we can, with the goal of increasing the accuracy of the cost estimates that we are providing on these projects,” said Bob Winter, Operations Division director.

“Although this was a very limited application of the process and policies under development, the workshop offered an opportunity to put into action some key concepts from the cost estimating project,” he said.

New: total project cost estimate

For one of those key concepts, known as the total project cost estimate, workshop participants reviewed their preliminary scoping reports to determine the potential impact on the project’s cost of what they know and what they don’t yet know about the project.

Their ultimate goal is a new one: Develop a total project cost estimate that takes into account more than just construction costs.

“Cost estimates for these projects will now include elements beyond hard construction costs, such as moving utilities, completing engineering, involving the public, purchasing land for right of way, finishing landscaping, and addressing environmental and historical concerns,” said Mike Ginnaty, project manager for the cost estimating initiative and assistant district engineer for District 4 (see also Ginnaty’s Voices column in this issue).

The total project cost estimate not only reflects all cost elements, but it also includes estimates for risk and contingency—that is, assessing the risks and assigning an amount in the estimate to help account for those risks.

With the limited time to determine scope and investigate all the factors that may influence a project, the workshop participants faced some serious challenges in developing total project cost estimates for the first time. But the workshop offered some guidance as they continue to refine their scope and estimates before the April 15 submission deadline for the project packages.

The input that he received was valuable, according to Harff.

“It was helpful to have others look at our scope and cost estimates and provide ideas for improving them. It proved to be a good experience,” he said. “As a project manager, the more I can do up front with the project, the easier it will be for others who work on the project as it progresses. It showed the importance of documenting, documenting and documenting.”

Project vision

The concept of total project cost estimate fits well with the project’s vision that Mn/DOT top staff developed in 2007.

“Escalating costs are affecting our ability to deliver projects on time and on budget,” said Tim Henkel, Planning, Modal and Data Management Division director. “The vision, the workshop and all the work on the scoping and cost estimating initiatives are of critical importance in being able to consistently deliver what we promise.”

Key components of the vision include:

  • A departmentwide priority on cost estimating and cost management
  • Reliable and accurate cost estimates
  • Statewide uniformity and consistency
  • Improved communication and credibility with external stakeholders
  • Clear accountability

“This project is about creating better estimates, building credibility and delivering our projects on time and on budget,” said Ginnaty.

Ongoing progress

Work continues on the third phase of the two-year project. The project involves representatives from districts and Central Office functions, who in late 2007, assisted with development of a new cost estimating and cost management process. Currently scheduled for completion in summer 2008, a Technical Reference Manual will document the new process.

The manual also will include a set of tools to help project managers and estimators with their work. In January and February, a group of Mn/DOT staff from districts and related central office functions evaluated and helped select the tools that will be included in the manual. Those tools range from peer reviews of estimates to checklists to analysis of historical data.

This fall, staff will receive training to promote the adoption of new processes and practices. An implementation plan that will affect districts and offices also will be completed to help ensure continued improvements.


Heart attack claims life of Willmar District’s Kyle Hochsprung

Kyle Hochsprung

Kyle Hochsprung, a senior transportation generalist at Hutchinson, died March 30. Photo courtesy of District 8

Kyle Hochsprung, a senior transportation generalist at Hutchinson, died March 30 from a heart attack. He was 53.

Hochsprung joined Mn/DOT in 2001 and served as a construction inspector until the time of this death.

A funeral service was held April 4 in Hutchinson.

Hochsprung lived with his family near Brownton. His survivors include wife, Kathy Hochsprung, a son and two daughters.

“Kyle was the go-to guy for so many things around here,” said Kelly Brunkhorst, a project engineer and Hoschsprung’s supervisor. “He was willing to help anyone with anything from the simplest tasks to the most complex ones.”

Brunkhorst said Hochsrpung was well-respected by his co-workers for his helpful attitude and his technical skills.

She said Hochsprung was also respected for leadership roles at his church and community organizations such as the Lion’s Club in Brownton.

In a message to employees, District Engineer Dave Trooien said, “Kyle will be remembered as a dedicated, caring and hard-working person. He will be greatly missed.”


Eric Davis takes post as Human Resources director

Eric Davis

Eric Davis, a former Human Resources staff member with Mn/DOT, was appointed as the department’s director of Human Resources, effective May 12.

Eric Davis, a former Human Resources staff member with Mn/DOT, was appointed as the department’s director of Human Resources.

His appointment begins May 12.

Before accepting his new position with Mn/DOT, Davis served as the human resources supervisor with the Stillwater School District since 2005.

In his new position, Davis will provide leadership and guidance in developing and implementing human resource services for the department.

During his previous tenure at Mn/DOT, Davis served in several human resources areas including organizational development, employee health, training and development as well as recruitment and retention.

Davis holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and a master’s degree in education from Chapman University in Sacramento, Cal.

Before joining Mn/DOT in 2000, Davis served as an officer with the U.S. Air Force. During his Air Force career, Davis led creation of a joint military equal opportunity program while assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

A Maryland native, Davis lives with his family in Stillwater.


On the job: St. Cloud’s Mark Renn ‘gits ‘er done’ somehow, someway

By Craig Wilkins

2 men outdoors

Mark Renn (right) meets with Andy Olson, a forester with East Central Electric, on removing dying trees along Hwy 23 near Foley and on plans for the utility’s planting a living snow fence on a three-mile section of Hwy 25 in Benton County. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Mark Renn is part diplomat, part bouncer, part roadway wizard.

He’s a fast-talking, hyperkinetic guy who wants to enforce the rules, take care of his customers and keep everybody (almost) happy.

He’s the St. Cloud maintenance area’s roadway regulations supervisor, a big title that covers a lot of ground.

So does he.

On a typical day he yanks an illegal yard sale sign and tosses it into his pickup, consults with a forester about removing trees and resolves several prickly right of way issues while handling a barrage of calls on his cell phone. Renn resolved a problem resulting from a water main break in Sauk Centre via cell phone while getting a cup of coffee for a visitor.

Renn loves his job, his coworkers and resolving issues. He’s been doing the job since 2000.

Before that, his Mn/DOT career included stints monitoring quality at concrete and bituminous batch plans and as a project inspector.

The Remer, Minn., native is at ease with people who live tucked away in the woods, business owners and public officials.

His office (aka ‘Mark’s Room’) walls are covered with achievement awards, pictures of his family and emblems of his passion for the outdoors, all sources of inspiration to him and his performance on the job.  

How was your first year or so in your current job?  

I wasn’t really trained for the job and I was a little arrogant, so I learned quickly to research issues thoroughly before taking a position on something. I also learned even when a regulation appears clear in state statutes, a judge can rule differently. In other words, I had to learn the hard way.

You have a lot of energy. How do you keep yourself going all the time?

I’m an extrovert; I get a lot of energy from other people. And I get energy from helping people and solving problems. I like dealing with people directly, even when they need to vent their frustrations.

What is your greatest source of satisfaction?

Helping people—helping people work through a complicated road access issue, for example, or bringing opposing factions together to resolve a problem. Or taking direct action when needed.

When I saw a ramp built to get snowmobiles over a fence along Hwy 23 near Sauk Rapids, I informed the property owner the ramp had to go. When he didn’t remove it, we took the part of the ramp in the right of way and hauled it back to shop. We scrapped it.

On the other hand, his neighbor, who had an identical ramp, removed it the first time we asked.

How has your job changed since you first started?

Well, technology, of course. For example, it used to be days or even a week to get various permits okayed locally, approved in St. Paul and respond to the requestor. Now our permits process runs on an automated, 24-hour basis to issue permits much more quickly and painlessly.

And there are computers that allow us to enter data in the field more quickly and more accurately. And cell phones, of course. Mine never stops ringing. It helps me get a lot of stuff done.

What’s your greatest challenge?  

Continuing to provide the same level of customer service as resources and staffing levels decline.

What do you see in your future?

I’ll do my best; the people deserve it. I trust and hope that the future will take care of itself.

Do you or a co-worker have an interesting job to share with readers? Click here to send us your ideas, and we’ll contact you for more information.

Recent employee profiles:


New total project cost estimates create consistency

By Mike Ginnaty

Mike Ginnaty

Mike Ginnaty is the project manager for the Cost Estimation Process Improvement and Organizational Integration Project and is an assistant district engineer in District 4/Detroit Lakes. Photo by Craig Wilkins

I’ve worked for Mn/DOT for 18 years and in that time I’ve been involved in many different projects. I’ve struggled with how to deliver projects within budget and on time.

One project that comes to mind is an urban reconstruction project. I hadn’t done one in a while. When the project got to the letting phase, I discovered that the project costs jumped—I had underestimated. We were able to make adjustments to get the project done, but not without sacrificing another project.

With the new processes developed as part of the Cost Estimation Process Improvement and Organizational Integration Project, project managers and estimators will have tools to make better, more consistent total project cost estimates and to manage project costs. Using the same check lists and keeping the same documentation for each project means that assumptions for a project can be verified and updated as a project progresses.

I’m a strong believer in the new scoping process. The new cost estimation processes dovetail very well with scoping. It is a much more comprehensive approach.

Early on in a project, there’s a lot we don’t know. There are things that we know will happen but we don’t know the details yet. These new processes will help us estimate those unknowns.

The definition of the cost of a project has changed over time. In the past, we made estimates on the construction costs. Now, project costs will be the total project cost, including engineering, utilities, environmental review, etc.

I wanted to be involved in this project because I think it’s a step in the right direction. I was first part of the project team, and then stepped into a leadership role in January. Since then, it has been a large part of my job.

Mn/DOT is one big system. We can’t make changes to one process without affecting others. Much of my time has been spent talking with other groups about how the total cost estimation process changes affect them. We’ve worked through a lot of issues.

This project comes down to public trust. People are demanding more information about how we conduct our business. Our new total project cost estimates create consistency—whether a project is in Detroit Lakes, the Twin Cities or anywhere across the state. Our language will be the same and our process will be the same.

Mike Ginnaty is the project manager for the Cost Estimation Process Improvement and Organizational Integration Project and is an assistant district engineer in District 4/Detroit Lakes. He’s worked at Mn/DOT for 18 years. Prior to that, he worked for a construction company as a project manager/estimator.  

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