Jan. 30, 2008
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Wind-whipped snow creates blizzard, forces road closings in southeastern Minnesota

By Craig Wilkins

Road closed during blizzard

Gates blocked access to southbound I-35 near Owatonna and other locations during a blizzard that hit southeastern Minnesota Jan. 29. Photo by Mark Panek

A few inches of snow driven by fierce winds caused white-out conditions in southeastern Minnesota Jan. 29-30.

Hard, steady winds plus gusts up to 45 miles an hour mixed falling snow into a wintry froth that reduced visibility to nearly zero in a zone from Owatonna south to Albert Lea.

The entire state remains locked in the deep freeze, but only that area combined the frigid cold, falling snow and powerful winds to create a blizzard.

The lack of visibility and several vehicle crashes led the State Patrol to close the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 between Owatonna and Albert Lea from 1 p.m., Jan. 29, until 5:30 a.m., Jan. 30, said Wes Smith, west area maintenance superintendent with Rochester/District 6.

Headlights of oncoming snowplow at night

A snowplow from the Owatonna Maintenance Area plows I-35 between Owatonna and Hope. Photo by David Gonzalez

A series of crashes also required closing the westbound lanes on two sections of I-90 near Rochester for several hours. Authorities closed Hwy 63 from Spring Valley to the Iowa border because of zero visibility and numerous crashes.

Smith said the district’s snowplows operated through the storm despite wind and frigid temperatures to keep roads clear and to support the State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.

“At first, the winds picked up a new snowfall. Later, the winds turned two or three inches of new snow into horizontal snow,” he said.

Smith said closing sections of the interstate highways, similar weather conditions in northern Iowa and an effective “no travel” advisory for the region reduced traffic considerably.

Many drivers, including truckers, quickly found alternate routes, he said.

“Once the word was out, the traffic was very light,” Smith said.

Although the blizzard conditions made operations difficult, Smith said no Mn/DOT plows were involved in crashes or experienced other difficulties.  

“That’s really a plus in this kind of situation,” he said.


Wakota Bridge project moves forward

By Jeanne Aamodt

Friday, Jan. 25, marked the bid opening for construction of the eastbound stretch of the Wakota Bridge on Interstate 494 between South St. Paul and Newport.

Mn/DOT received four bids for the project, including the apparent low bid of $60.1 million presented by Lunda Construction.

Lunda was the contractor on the westbound stretch and was originally slated to complete the eastbound portion of the project. Mn/DOT chose to separate the project and rebid the construction when a design flaw was discovered in 2004 and the agency and Lunda could not agree on cost increases.

In related news, Lt. Gov./Commissioner Carol Molnau urged the Minnesota House Commerce and Labor Committee at its Jan. 29 hearing to request that the Legislative Auditor review the bidding process for the eastbound span of the Wakota Bridge. The committee had questioned the re-bidding of this portion of the project.

“We believe we made the proper choice in re-bidding this project,” Molnau said.

“When negotiations failed to produce a fair settlement to build the eastbound Wakota Bridge , I felt an open and competitive re-bidding of this portion of the overall project was the only responsible action to protect the interests of Minnesota taxpayers and the propriety of the state’s contracting processes,” she said.


District 4 adapts current technology to improve winter work zone safety

By Craig Wilkins

A new use of existing technology now makes a section of Hwy 10 in Detroit Lakes safer for both motorists and snowplow operators.

The application uses speed-detection radar, truck-mounted transmitters and portable message signs to warn motorists when they drive too fast and when snowplows are operating in the area.

The system adds a margin of safety where the highway makes a sweeping curve around Big Detroit Lake that reduces sight distances.

If vehicles exceed the speed limit, the signs flash a warning for drivers to slow down.

When snowplows are working in the area, the signs change to alert motorists of their presence.

Vehicle-mounted transmitters trigger flashing “Snow Removal Ahead” messages when the snowplows come within a mile of the signs.

The technology isn’t new, but it is the first time the signs, monitors and other equipment have been used for winter work zones, said Shiloh Wahl, a project manager with District 4 in Detroit Lakes.

Wahl said the installation reflects the district’s increasing use of intelligent transportation system applications. In 2006, for example, staff working on the Connect Detroit Lakes project used a laser-guided total survey station with prisms mounted on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks during construction of the Roosevelt Avenue underpass in the city.

The system monitored horizontal and vertical movement of the tracks that parallel Hwy 10 and automatically notified project staff and the railroad if movements exceeded pre-determined limits.

Wahl said the Hwy 10 warning system is needed because many drivers fail to decelerate as they negotiate the curve that takes them into the downtown area.

“Most drivers slow down to the posted limit but many don’t, especially those from out of town,” Wahl said. “That’s what brings us to try this: increasing safety for motorists and our maintenance crews.”

Snowplow & sign

An approaching snowplow alerts motorists to snow removal operations on Hwy 10 in Detroit Lakes. Photo by Marv Sohlo

Districts 2, 8 join efforts to expand statewide traffic safety awareness

By Lisa Yang

Safety ad campaign

An ad informs drivers about the distance dots along Hwy 55 in Wright County.

Two Mn/DOT districts have recently joined the Toward Zero Deaths program, a statewide effort led by the Department of Public Safety and Mn/DOT to decrease traffic crashes and enhance the public’s awareness of traffic safety.

In cooperation with the State Patrol, the Federal Highway Administration, Minnesota county engineers, and the Center for Transportation Studies, Bemidji/District 2 and Willmar/District 8 have partnered with their local public health and emergency services to strengthen TZD efforts statewide.

Staff from both districts attended the TZD conference held last September in Duluth, which drew about 540 participants.

Since then, District 2 Transportation Engineer Lynn Eaton, Mike Kamnikar and Michelle Buller, traffic engineers, and Karen Bedeau, public affairs coordinator, have been spreading the word on the statewide TZD effort in hopes of bringing it closer to home in Bemidji.

Eaton and his staff collected contact information of other community and local groups in District 2 who attended the conference. They invited members of these groups to a recent meeting to discuss forming a coalition in the northwest area. Approximately 15 people, including community health educators and law enforcement officers, attended the meeting.

District 2’s group will meet Feb. 8 to plan a northwest regional TZD workshop to be held March 21.

In Willmar/District 8 held its first meeting last year in Marshall and sponsored a kick-off meeting during the TZD Conference last fall. A southwest TZD workshop will be held April 22 to create a TZD leadership group for the region.

Community groups and members have been invited to the workshop, which will be in Redwood Falls. The meeting will have breakout sessions about seat belts, speeding, young driver issues and alcohol and drug use.

“We’re looking to District 6 for ideas,” said Jon Henslin, District 8 traffic and detail design engineer. “They’ve been doing this longer than we have.”

“We’ve just finished creating subcommittees, and the news media in our area are starting to pick up on the TZD effort,” said Kristine Hernandez, District 6 public affairs and TZD coordinator. “My advice to other districts is to look at the traffic data in their area and then organize their workshops based on those data.”

Statewide, the TZD program is examining short-term and lower-cost alternatives in new technologies rather than traditional engineering solutions to help address safety concerns on roads.

Besides Rochester, Wright County has been an active participant in the TZD program for more than five years. Safe Communities of Wright County is an example of a local group that has successfully implemented specific programs and techniques with county engineers, the county sheriff’s department and other safety partners to identify and address traffic safety issues.

“We painted the white tailgating dots on Hwy 55 near Buffalo to help keep drivers at a safe distance from one another,” said Wayne Fingalson, Wright County highway engineer. “We also put up blue signs reminding motorists to concentrate on driving, and ran a program that challenged high school student drivers to always wear their seat belts while driving.”

“It’s great that more districts are working with others in their area on this effort,” Hernandez said. “I’m glad it is continuously growing across the state and making drivers more aware of traffic safety.”

The next TZD event is the 2008 Southeast Minnesota TZD Workshop in Rochester on May 15. The 2008 TZD conference will be held Oct. 7-8 in Rochester.

For more information on TZD programs and events, visit the TZD Web site at


On the job: Dick Post has built a career on architecture where form follows function

By Craig Wilkins

3 men on a platform

Dave Lennartson, an engineering specialist, Dick Post and Cliff Gergen, a Metro District sub-area supervisor, check lighting fixtures in the addition to the Lakeville truck station. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Dick Post, an architect, serves with the Office of Human Resources and Administration. His job: managing Mn/DOT’s statewide facilities that range from district headquarters buildings to sand and salt storage sites in remote locations.

As a youth growing up in St. Cloud, Post was fascinated by design and how various elements of a drawing, or a building, work together. He knew early on he wanted to become an architect.

Following graduation in facilities management and after earning his architect’s license, Post put his new set of skills to work as a facilities project manager at military installations in the state. He served as the public works director for the Minnesota Army National Guard and earned an award for construction of the new training facility at Camp Ripley near Little Falls.

Post joined Mn/DOT in 2001, and has served as chairman of the state’s Facilities Managers Group.

How did your early interest in art, design and architecture first take form?

I liked to paint and draw. In high school I chose art classes instead of shop. That led to my art teacher and me helping make stained glass windows for the then-new and very modern St. John’s Abbey Church at nearby St. John’s University in Collegeville.  

We worked with area craftsmen to follow the vision of renowned modernist architect Marcel Breuer, who designed the futuristic church, its landmark bell tower and other structures.

After high school, I enlisted for a six-year tour with the Marine Corps, including service in Vietnam.

After my discharge, I did construction work. Pouring concrete on the roof a building one frigid December morning really convinced me to consider other aspects of the construction business.  

What did you decide that day?

I decided to use the G.I. Bill and go to college. I chose Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge because it was warm there, affordable and its architecture school supported the ‘form-follows-function design’ philosophy.

Man on cell phone

Dick Post takes a phone call during a visit to the Lakeville truck station. Photo by Craig Wilkins

How have you combined your interests in aesthetics and functionality?

I’ve become more involved in the construction aspects more than design side of buildings, but I am convinced form and function can work together harmoniously. In the same vein, we can build environmentally friendly buildings that are attractive and still do what they’re supposed to do.

You won an award for your work at Camp Ripley; what do you consider your most important work at Mn/DOT?

A new district headquarters building at Mankato, if we get it.

At Mn/DOT, we’ve been able to establish a commonality of building standards and processes to make building new structures and modifying existing ones easier, faster and more economical.

At the state level, we’re very close to having a common software program that will allow agencies to share standards and other information needed to make the best decisions about building needs and priorities.

Our projects, such as the design and construction of the Thief River Falls Joint Operations Center and the new, energy-efficient Litchfield truck station, have also been very rewarding.

The building at Thief River houses Mn/DOT, the Department of Natural Resources, the State Patrol and the city and county highway departments. The facility has become a community asset and focal point.

The Litchfield facility uses an underground heat pump exchange system for building heating and cooling.

We use other measures to cut back energy consumption when buildings are not in use. We’re making better use of light to save energy, and to create more attractive work environments. Using heated floors is efficient and contributes to safety by keeping water and other liquids from freezing on the floor.

What excites you about the future?

We are now investigating the feasibility of using wind turbines to generate electricity for truck stations and other facilities. This promises a very exciting possibility to cut energy costs and improve efficiency in the future.

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