Jan. 21, 2009
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Capitol briefs

Senate confirms Sorel as Mn/DOT commissioner

The full Senate on Jan. 15 confirmed Tom Sorel as Mn/DOT’s commissioner, a position he has held since April 2008.

Earlier, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee on Jan. 8, Sorel outlined his vision for serving the traveling public, which includes:

  • Providing a safe transportation system
  • Improving mobility - better access to transportation system, better freight movement
  • Promoting innovation inside and outside the organization
  • Becoming the state transportation leader and employer of choice for Minnesota’s diverse population
  • Being transparent to build public trust in Mn/DOT

“Mn/DOT is a great organization with some very talented and dedicated employees who have the best interests of the traveling public at heart,” Sorel said. “I have enjoyed the job to this point, and I look forward to continuing the progress we have made.”

Metro District’s Benjamin takes on legislative mobility role

Liz Benjamin, principal engineer in Metro District, has accepted the legislative liaison mobility position in the Office of Government Affairs for the 2009 session. She joins Scott Peterson, Government Affairs director, and Erik Rudeen, legislative liaison.

Benjamin’s responsibilities include tracking and reporting the progress of legislation affecting Mn/DOT, reviewing proposed legislation and working with Mn/DOT employees to provide information on legislative issues and concerns.

Benjamin brings more than 20 years experience with Mn/DOT, primarily in construction for the Metro District.

She can be reached at 651-366-4824.

Legislative information posted on Government Affairs Web site

Want to keep up with what’s happening at the Legislature? Check out the Government Affairs internal Web site,, for weekly legislative summaries and fact sheets about transportation issues. Check back regularly as this site is frequently updated.

And, if you’re feeling nostalgic for sessions past, you can find links to information from the legislative sessions going back to 2003.

Governor delivers State of State address

In his 2009 State of the State Address Jan. 15, Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked legislators to keep in mind the hopes and fears of Minnesotans at kitchen tables across the state as lawmakers work to balance the state's budget and position Minnesota for future success. 

“The couple at the kitchen table begins by setting priorities,” Pawlenty said. “What’s most important? What can we afford? What do we give up? How can we do things different? We need to ask and answer the very same questions.”

Among the governor’s priorities was a proposal to freeze all state government wages for the next two years and pass legislation requiring a wage freeze for any Minnesota government entity that accepts state money.

Click here to view the State of the State address.


Mn/DOT's 20-year Statewide Transportation Plan available for public review, comment

By Donna Lindberg

Cover of State Plan

The Minnesota Statewide Transportation Plan for 2009-2028 is now available for public review and comment through March 31, 2009.

The Minnesota Statewide Transportation Plan for 2009-2028 is now available for public review and comment through March 31, 2009.

The plan, “Transforming Minnesota’s Transportation System,” sets a long-range vision for transportation in Minnesota and identifies transportation system needs, goals and priorities for the next 20 years.

“This plan reflects the concerns we heard from stakeholders over the past two years as well as the new Chapter 152 funding and investment direction provided by the 2008 Legislature,” said Peggy Reichert, Statewide Planning director, Office of Investment Management and Performance Measures.

“The district Highway Investment Plans have also been updated as part of the Statewide Plan,” she said.  

“Given the dramatic changes in the economy over the past 12 months, and the uncertain future for transportation revenues and costs, the district plans represent a snapshot in time. As conditions change, such as the potential additional federal funding for transportation, we will need to update the plans,” she said.

Open house meetings will be held in each Mn/DOT district during February so the public can review and comment on the plan. In addition, the department will hold a public meeting via video conferencing on March 26 at nine Mn/DOT locations statewide.

“A sound multi-modal transportation system is essential for a strong economy. We are eager to share this draft plan with our stakeholders and continue the discussion on the future of transportation in Minnesota,” Reichert said.

To review and comment on the Statewide Transportation Plan, as well as find a listing of the public outreach meetings, visit  

See also Mn/DOT’s Jan. 16 news release.


Hofstedt named new Information and Technology Services office director

Kathy Hofstedt

Kathy Hofstedt has been appointed as the new director of the Office Information and Technology Services, effective Jan. 21. Photo by Chris Joyce

Kathy Hofstedt has been appointed as the new director of the Office Information and Technology Services, effective Jan. 21. She succeeds Mike Barnes, who is now the director of the Engineering Services Division.

In her new job, Hofstedt will serve as the department’s chief information officer.

Hofstedt has been with Mn/DOT for more than 30 years and has held several leadership positions within the IT office, including the Application Management Section supervisor, Development Services supervisor, Web Development director, and Policy and Standards supervisor.  

Prior to coming to the Office of Information and Technology Services, she was a supervisor in the Motor Carrier Section.

Hofstedt has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota.  

Her office is located in Room 130A Transportation Building in St. Paul; her phone number is 651-366-4048.


Fried named director of Emergency Management Services

By Craig Wilkins

Gary Fried, Susan Walto

Gary Fried discusses training issues and priorities with staff member Susan Walto. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Gary Fried, a former emergency management director with Goodhue County, now leads Mn/DOT’s Emergency Management Services Section.

The section is part of the Maintenance Office.

Fried served in his previous position with the county for 23 years before accepting his new position in December.

His primary responsibilities include coordinating Mn/DOT’s response to statewide emergencies, training staff on emergency- and security-related issues and developing the agency’s continuance of operations plan.

Before joining Goodhue County in 1986, Fried served as a maintenance worker, heavy equipment operator and inspector at the Red Wing Truck Station in the Rochester District for six years.

His experience also includes studying electronics at Brown University and volunteering in emergency management planning, monitoring and response. Fried has also conducted training in first aid, CPR and related topics.

He is a member of the International Association of Emergency Managers.

He may be reached at 651-366-3364.


Mn/DOT appoints two new business managers

Sue Stein

Sue Stein is the new Operations Division business manager. Photo by Craig WIlkins

Sue Stein, formerly the administrative manager in District 3, and Linda Davis-Johnson, from the Department of Human Services, have been appointed business managers for the department.

Both appointments were effective Dec. 10, 2008.

Stein, who has more than 25 years of experience in technical, supervisory and managerial positions, is the new Operations Division business manager. She has worked in Golden Valley, Duluth, Rochester, Owatonna and Baxter, which gives her an excellent background to effectively represent statewide operational functions, according to Bob Winter, Operations Division director.

Stein’s office is located on the fourth floor of the Transportation Building. Her phone number is 651-366-4811.

Linda Davis-Johnson

Linda Davis-Johnson began her new job at Mn/DOT on Dec. 10. Photo by Craig Wilkins

Davis-Johnson is the business manager for the Employee & Corporate Services Division, the Modal Planning & Program Management Division, the State Aid Division and the Commissioner's offices.    

Davis-Johnson had more than 10 years experience managing various programs at the Department of Human Services, including the Minnesota Health Care Program. In addition, she has several years of other management and technical experience from public and private organizations.

Davis-Johnson is located on the fourth floor of the Transportation Building. She can be reached at 651-366-4842.


Book highlights stories along Hwy 61

By Lisa Yang

Book inscription

Mike Robinson, Duluth District engineer, received an autographed copy of the "Tales of the Road - Highway 61" from author Cathy Wurzer. Photo by John Bray

Hwy 61, which runs from the Canadian border south to La Crescent along the North Shore, St. Paul and the Mississippi River, is the subject of a new book by a Minnesota journalist.

“Tales of the Road – Highway 61,” written by Cathy Wurzer, records the history of the original U.S. Hwy 61 and its ongoing renovation as Minnesota Hwy 61. Wurzer is the host of programs on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television.

Published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, the book is a companion to a Twin Cities Public Television documentary also called Tales of the Road, set to air this month.

Mike Robinson, Duluth District engineer, and John Bray, special assistant to the district engineer, provided information during the book’s development. They each received signed copies of the book from Wurzer.

The book contains stories along Hwy 61 about bootleggers crossing the St. Croix River by ferry, a pottery factory in Red Wing, and quaint tourist cabins, supper clubs and lodges that served tourists, who began motoring up the road in the 1920s.

Each tale is illustrated with historic and current views to show how much or how little Hwy 61 has changed.

The current corridor has been the focal point of a massive redesign and reconstruction effort since the mid-1980s, according to Bray, and was awarded “All American Road” status by the Federal Highway Administration.  

In addition to featuring the Midwest’s only mined hardrock highway tunnels at Silver Creek Cliff and Lafayette Bluff, the route includes construction of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail, Bray said.

Still a work in progress, Hwy 61 is anticipating another nearly $200 million in projects through 2020.

For more information about the book, see the “Tales of the Road” Web site.


Transportation ombudsman provides custom tailoring when one-size-fits-all doesn’t work

By Deb Ledvina, Mn/DOT ombudsman

Jim Pence, Deb Ledvina

Jim Pence and Deb Ledvina research and try to resolve complaints from contractors,homeowners, businesses or communities affected by Mn/DOT construction projects. Photo by Craig Wilkins

A large bureaucracy like Mn/DOT has to have rules and policies that are intended to fit every situation. Occasionally, however, that “one size fits all” approach forces a few unusual exceptions through the cracks, in spite of the best efforts of Mn/DOT employees.

That’s the 1 percent that comes to the new Ombudsman’s Office—my office—for review. It’s a role I’ve held since last fall when Commissioner Tom Sorel asked me to serve as Mn/DOT’s first ombudsman.

Although I am trained as a lawyer, and have worked for Mn/DOT as an attorney for 16 years, I have not felt comfortable in the traditional adversarial role that many lawyers assume. I’ve always been a problem solver; I believe that there are common interests in each situation which can lead to a satisfactory outcome.

I love people, listening to stories, asking questions and learning how and why certain decisions are made.

That’s a big part of my new job, which officially is to resolve issues that can’t be resolved through standard procedures or have been resolved, but not to the satisfaction of the agencies or people involved.

My work focuses mainly on issues related to the project delivery process for construction projects, such as resolving issues with contractors, homeowners, businesses or communities affected by Mn/DOT construction projects.  

Whether it’s a home that was badly shaken by vibrations from our compacters or a business owner’s sign that has been in our right of way for 20 years and needs to be removed, the questions coming to my office all have one thing common: a Mn/DOT stakeholder who feels he or she is being treated unfairly.

After the facts are known about a situation, the commissioner and I meet, discuss suggested remedies (if needed), and make a decision to resolve the issue or conflict. The commissioner is the sole decision-maker; his decision is final.

Most often I find that people may only need to be heard or shown some empathy for their concerns. Often, explaining a process in easy to understand language is enough. Sometimes we need to do more because a decision made or policy applied had unintended results which need to be resolved.

I try to add value to the issues by bringing a different perspective to the table. I always ask, “How can we make this better from our customers’ perspective?”

I recognize we have constraints in how we operate, but sometimes just saying “I’m sorry for the inconvenience we have caused you” carries a lot of meaning.

My role is part-mediator, part-educator and part-communicator for Mn/DOT. My staff (Jim Pence and Lydia Montgomery) and I are dedicated to working with the public and our external stakeholders to resolve any issues they have with our agency. By doing this, we hope to build public trust and confidence in Mn/DOT and demonstrate our commitment to the people we serve and to the partners with whom we work.

While there isn’t an easy remedy for every situation or issue, most can be handled to respect each participant’s value and legitimacy and create a better understanding, if not agreement, of the issue. That’s our goal.          

For more information about the role of the department’s ombudsman, see

Prior to becoming Mn/DOT’s ombudsman, Deb Ledvina worked in a variety of areas within the department, including the offices of Administration, Transportation Data Analysis, Investment Management, and Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations. Ledvina also was the director of a legal services agency and practiced law for a variety of non-profit organizations before joining Mn/DOT.



Here are a couple of the many letters Mn/DOT receives monthly thanking employees for their assistance.

District 6 workers pull couple from overturned truck

This letter is to thank your department, in specific, a pair of DOT drivers (Randy Randall, Owatonna, and David Johnson, Albert Lea ) for rescuing us Jan. 11.

We were driving to Owatonna from Cedar Rapids when our truck rolled over in the median. It came to rest on the driver's side and we were in deep trouble. Two of your drivers got us out of the truck and gave us a warm place to sit until the highway patrol arrived.

I'm happy to report we are both fine, and happy to be alive….There's no way to know what would have happened if they had not responded immediately and worked so well together to get us out. With our truck resting on the driver's side, they took a big risk climbing on top of the truck to pull us up and out. We were kept warm and safe in the DOT truck….

Please give them our thanks and let them know they will forever be in our prayers. They did everything right and we will never forget them. I will never forget the image of their hands reaching into the cab to pull me up to safety. Never. You could not ask for better representatives of your department in the public eye.

With deepest gratitude, Lloyd and Starla Swanson

FIRST driver does his job, despite being assaulted by driver

 Editor’s note: On Nov. 5, 2008, Nicholas Vars, a member of Metro District’s Freeway Incident Response Safety Team, responded to a motorist whose car was stalled, blocking a curve on southbound Interstate 35W. A State Patrol trooper also arrived on scene to help and later sent this note to Vars' supervisors explaining the situation.

….While Vars was there trying to help move the vehicle to a safe location, the driver became aggressive with him. She would not listen to him or get off her phone. Vars tried to explain the danger the driver was in, but she wouldn’t move her vehicle out of the lane. Vars was leaning inside the vehicle so the driver could hear him. The driver cursed at him and slammed the door on his head and neck.

Vars left the vehicle, returned to his own vehicle and continued to protect the driver that just assaulted him by sitting in the lane behind her.

I would not have expected Vars to stick around after this belligerent driver just assaulted him, but because he did, it greatly helped me do my job and also protected me in the curve when I arrived. Vars definitely showed his professionalism and dedication in this situation. I feel he went above and beyond the call of duty. Please pass on my thanks to Nick for a job well done.

Trooper Renee Adrian

For more information about the FIRST program, see 

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