Nov. 24, 2009
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All aboard: Northstar Commuter Rail line opens to public

By Bob Filipczak

train station

The Northstar Commuter Rail line comes to a halt at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, one of six stations along the 40-mile route. Photo by David Gonzalez

Unless you’ve been out of town for a couple of weeks, you probably already have read and heard a lot about the launch of the Northstar Commuter Rail line on Nov. 16.

The new line stretches 40 miles from Big Lake to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, includes six stations along the route and has an estimated 2010 ridership of 3,400 passengers a day.

The successful launch of the line was the culmination of a lot of negotiations, work and collaboration.

“It’s underappreciated how long it takes to launch something like this,” said Mike Schadauer, Transit director.

In the case of the Northstar line, the cooperation involved Mn/DOT, the Met Council, county and local governments, the Northstar Corridor Development Authority and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

The Northstar line runs on BNSF’s mainline track between Seattle and Chicago with a significant number of freight trains and Amtrak. An agreement was reached with BNSF that includes track easements, using the railroad’s communications center and having BNSF employees operate the trains.

“There were a lot of ancillary benefits for BNSF operating Northstar trains,” said Bryan Dodds, Metro District Transit director. “They have staff committed to the project who want to see the project be successful. That goes a long way in building rapport with the home agency.”

Northstar welcomed another partner about half-way through the project—the Minnesota Twins.

“We had our contract out and being advertised when we discovered that a ballpark was going to be plunked down next to us,” said Dodds. “Nevertheless, Northstar’s contractors worked together with the stadium construction company to complete both projects.”

Traffic abhors a vacuum

One thing that gives Schadauer pause when hearing others talk about Northstar is the premise that it will reduce congestion.

“I think that’s a black hole for us, and I don’t think we should ever say that,” Schadauer said. “I think we should talk about how things like Northstar provide an alternative to congestion.”

Schadauer added that the traffic on Hwy 10 might be reduced temporarily, but his experience is that when a highway becomes less congested, traffic patterns adjust and eventually fill up the lanes again.

“Northstar is now part of our toolbox for keeping people moving in congested corridors,” Schadauer said.

For more information on the Northstar Commuter Rail line, visit

Transit Glossary

With the new Northstar line up and running, and the recent symposium in Rochester on personal rapid transit, there’s a whole lot of transit going on.

  • Light-Rail Transit is generally defined as electric rail cars that operate as short trains in urban areas at slower speeds. (Example: Hiawatha line)
  • Commuter Rail is passenger train service that runs from the center of a city to suburbs and commuter towns. They carry a lot of passengers and run on existing freight railroad tracks. (Example: Northstar line)
  • Personal Rapid Transit is public transit in small, independent cars on an electric track, guided by computer and designed to provide non-stop transport for individuals or small groups. This system runs more like a taxi in that you order a car, it arrives and you take it to your particular destination.
  • Intercity Passenger Rail is express train service between cities. They generally run on existing freight tracks and carry a lot of passengers. (Example: Amtrak)
  • High-Speed Rail is passenger rail that travels faster than 125 mph. There are also a few high-speed freight systems around the world.
  • Commercial Rail consists of freight trains that transport goods across the state.

2009 construction projects focus on safety, mobility, innovation

The new Granite City Crossing, which carries Hwy 23 over the Mississippi River in St. Cloud, tops a list of more than 300 Mn/DOT highway and bridge projects in 2009.

“This road construction season has been one of the busiest in recent memory,” said Commissioner Tom Sorel. “We’ve completed several high-profile projects across the state, like the new Granite City Crossing, and made progress on massive multi-year undertakings, like the Interstate 35W/Hwy 62 Crosstown Commons project.

“With the completion of these projects, motorists will see less congestion and experience a safer, more efficient commute,” Sorel said. “Mn/DOT’s mission is to provide a safe transportation system with better mobility and to use innovative methods. These projects help move us in that direction.”


Sept. 30, Mn/DOT opened the new MnPASS Express Lanes between Burnsville Parkway and downtown Minneapolis. Photo by David Gonzalez

Twin Cities metro area 

  • Work is complete on the Larpenteur Avenue bridge replacement project at Hwy  280 in Lauderdale.
  • Work on the innovative congestion-relieving Urban Partnership Agreement projects on I-35W south of Minneapolis is well underway. On Sept. 30, Mn/DOT opened the new MnPASS Express Lanes between Burnsville Parkway and downtown Minneapolis. All UPA transit-related projects are scheduled to be completed by late fall 2010.
  • Work continues on the I-35W/Hwy 62 Crosstown Commons project in Minneapolis and Richfield. Crews have completed construction on the 46th Street bridge and ramps, Lyndale Avenue ramps and 80 percent of the sound walls. The project is scheduled for completion in December 2010. When work is completed, drivers will experience reduced congestion and improved safety on one of the busiest roadways in the state.
  • Work continues to improve safety and reduce congestion with the Hwy 169 “Triangle” interchange at County Road 81 and 85th Avenue in Brooklyn Park and Osseo. The entire project is scheduled for completion in fall 2011.
  • Work on a new Hwy 7 interchange at Wooddale Avenue in St. Louis Park is progressing. The interchange is expected to be operational by fall 2010. The entire project, including landscaping and other miscellaneous tasks, is scheduled for completion in spring 2011.

Northern and central Minnesota

  • Work is complete on the Hwy 23 Granite City Crossing project in St. Cloud. The new four-lane span over the Mississippi River opened to traffic on Oct. 29.
  • Work is complete on the resurfacing of Hwy 1 between Warren and Thief River Falls.
  • Work is complete on a reinforcement project on a portion of Hwy 169 near Chisholm where abandoned underground mines weakened the roadbed.
  • Work is complete on the resurfacing of Hwy 10 between Wadena and Motley.
  • Work continues on the reconstruction of Hwy 61 north of Tofte, which will improve safety on that stretch of scenic roadway along Lake Superior. The project is scheduled to be completed in fall 2010.

Southern Minnesota

  • Work is nearing completion on Hwy 169 through downtown St. Peter, which opened to traffic Nov. 16. Additional sidewalk and landscaping work will continue in spring 2010. The reconstruction was a design-build project, which is a contracting process that brings designers and contractors together early in the detail design phase of a project.
  • Work is complete on the resurfacing of I-35 in Rice County. The project included the installation of four miles of cable median guardrail. There are now approximately 34 miles of cable median guardrail on I-35 in southern Minnesota.
  • Work is complete on the resurfacing of Hwy 7 from Montevideo to Clara City.
  • Work continues on the realignment and expansion of Hwy 14 from Waseca to Owatonna, which includes the construction of a new I-35/Hwy 14 interchange. All components of the realignment project are expected to be completed by summer 2012. This project will improve safety and mobility on this heavily traveled roadway.
  • Work on the replacement of four bridges on I-90 in Mower County is progressing. The project is scheduled for completion in September 2010.


Work commenced this summer on the replacement of two Hwy 60 bridges in Morristown. Built in 1952, the old bridges received low sufficiency ratings, with a majority of their structure rated in poor condition or below. Photo courtesy of District 6

Of the 172 Greater Minnesota projects, 63 were funded with federal stimulus dollars and were previously announced by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Commissioner Sorel in February.

Mn/DOT also completed several more safety-oriented projects around the state this season, which included the addition of 148 new miles of cable median barrier, bringing the total statewide to 287 miles. In addition to cable median barrier, more than 500 miles of centerline and shoulder rumble stripes were installed on greater Minnesota highways this year.

“Improving and maintaining a safe, reliable and modern transportation system is our top priority,” Sorel said. “The addition of more cable median barriers and rumble stripes are safety enhancements that can lead to reduced transportation-related fatalities and injuries.”

Besides work on state highway and bridge projects, Mn/DOT delivered $45 million in federal and state grants to 64 transit systems statewide. Among other benefits, these funds enabled 33 transit systems to purchase replacement buses and three systems to advance bus garage projects, and enabled construction to begin for improving vehicle and pedestrian circulation in the ABC Ramps in downtown Minneapolis.

Mn/DOT had 12 projects shovel-ready for improving airport facilities and equipment statewide. Minnesota received a total of $20.9 million in federal economic stimulus grants via the Federal Aviation Administration for these projects. 

In addition, 190 airport projects began statewide in 2009, including those involving general maintenance, new terminal construction, runway resurfacing, fuel system upgrades, navigational aid improvement and new airport maintenance equipment began. More than $65.5 million in federal funds and $9.1 million state funds were dedicated to these projects.

Although the majority of 2009 construction work is coming to an end, work on several projects throughout the state will continue through the winter as weather permits.

For a list of recently completed projects, and those still underway, visit


Mn/DOT community partnership celebrates first anniversary

MnCARRS group

Beyond Mn/DOT, a plan is being created that will introduce MnCARRS to other state agencies. Photo by Nick Carpenter

The Community Advisors on Recruitment and Retention Solutions group marked its one-year anniversary on Nov. 13 with a celebration at Central Office.

MnCARRS is a community partnership composed of employees and community leaders representing minority communities, women, veterans and people with disabilities. The group was created to build recruitment partnerships with communities underrepresented in the department’s workforce to assist the agency in recruiting and retaining qualified candidates from a variety of backgrounds.

“MnCARRS is an innovative way for us to build recruitment partnerships with Minnesota’s diverse communities and enrich our workforce,” said Emma Corrie, recruitment programs manager. “Since the creation of MnCARRS one year ago, Mn/DOT has hired more than 30 employees statewide who were referred by MnCARRS members.”

MnCARRS members serve as recruiters within their own communities for Mn/DOT jobs. Since the group formed, members have attended career fairs, job information events and mock interview sessions at various locations. The group is involved in the entire continuum from recruitment to selection to mentoring individuals on the job after they are hired.
“MnCARRS provides an opportunity for candidates to fill positions throughout the entire agency—not just engineering jobs or snowplow operator openings,” said Eric Davis, Human Resources director.

Beyond Mn/DOT, a plan is being created that will introduce MnCARRS to other state agencies.

“I believe MnCARRS can be used as a model by other state agencies," said Theresa Johnson, staffing manager. “Hopefully, we will see a statewide MnCARRS effort assisting other state agencies all over the state in the near future.”


Good e-mail practices, New Library Materials posted on the Web

By Qin Tang

Starting this month, Mn/DOT is switching e-mail systems from GroupWise to Outlook. As a result, employees will have reduced and limited storage space for e-mails. Now is a good time to be mindful of e-mail etiquette and review good e-mail practices.

Mn/DOT Library has recently added two new books on this topic: "Send: Why People E-mail So Badly and How to do it Better" and "E-mail: A Write it Well Guide: How to Write and Manage E-Mail in the Workplace."

A summary of some good e-mail practices from these two books is posted online in the October issue of New Library Materials available at:


On the job: Barbara Forsland connects public to Mn/DOT information

By Lisa Yang

Barbara Forsland, Data Practices compliance and policy analyst, regularly receives requests from citizens, businesses, law firms, researchers, private investigators, state agencies and other interested parties for data about projects and the many other types of work that Mn/DOT performs. Photo by Lisa Yang

Connecting the public to Mn/DOT’s information is a job that Barbara Forsland, Data Practices compliance and policy analyst, has served in for more than five years now.

Forsland began her career at Mn/DOT in the Office of Civil Rights in 1992. Her core work was to enforce equal employment and opportunity programs with contractors on construction projects and handle civil rights-related complaints from contract workers.

In early 2004, Forsland moved to the Data Practices unit and started out as a one-person office. The position was created to manage Mn/DOT’s response to requests for data. Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, all agencies are required to provide access to all public government data held by the agencies.

Since the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007, Forsland has received an increased amount of requests from the public. Along with requests for data about the old and new I-35W bridges, requestors seek a variety of information including project data, river crossings, property acquisition data and railroad crossing data.

Upon receiving a request, what steps do you usually take to get the process going?

When I was a one-person office, I first explored agency records to see who had the information that was needed and then requested for the appropriate office to provide the information to me. Once I received the information, I reviewed it to determine what data was public and what data was classified as something other than public by state and federal legal standards. Then, I provided the public data to the requester.

How many requests do you receive on a regular basis, and what information is usually requested?

Before the bridge collapse, we would get 10 to 15 requests a month. Some were small and easy requests to fulfill and some were large and complex.

The collapse of the I-35W bridge changed the world of data practices. The volume of requests for information increased and even two years after the collapse of the bridge, the volume of requests is still higher than the volume before the collapse. Part of the reason for the increase is that the public has become more aware that they can get information from us.

The Data Practices Office regularly receives requests from citizens, businesses, law firms, researchers, private investigators, other agencies and other interested parties for data about projects and the many other types of work that Mn/DOT performs.

Describe what your job was like after the bridge collapsed.

It was very busy. I had to wear a pager at all times, which frequently called me out of meetings to handle other bridge-related issues. It was the single most challenging event since I began in Data Practices.

It also caused us to increase the size of our office. We’ve hired two people to help with the increase of requests. Peter Zuniga came on board to manage the electronic data related to the bridge collapse as a temporary appointment. We found his legal and technological skills to be indispensable and he became a permanent staff attorney in Data Practices. Sue Stein came to us from the Construction Office, and is now our office coordinator. She manages the flow of data practices requests and the database we use to track them and ensures that we complete fulfillment on schedule. Sue also manages the Data Practices Web site.

Our office has also used employees who were attorneys on a rotating basis due to the bridge collapse. Since then, we have hired temporary attorneys to assist with reviewing bridge-related data and we’ll be hiring four more attorneys this November for at least two months.

Are there upcoming topics that you feel will become hot button issues?

The bridge collapse continues to be of interest and requests may spike as the litigation receives more publicity.

River crossings have become a massive environmental concern to the public and to groups like the Sierra Club. These groups come forward with requests for volumes of information about how we make decisions.

Also, there are continued questions about employment of minorities including the hiring and use of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in Mn/DOT’s construction work.

Usual concerns that I expect to continue receiving requests about are prevailing wages inquiries, stimulus projects, appraisals of property, Central Corridor issues and inquiries about specific projects. 

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

I enjoy working with every phase of work that our agency performs. We do so many things at Mn/DOT. Everyone here is so good at their jobs. They know what their jobs are and how to do get them done. When I don’t know the answer to something and need to get information from someone, I have never been refused. Everyone shares the information that they have and it makes my job easy and pleasant. It is a pleasure to meet all the people and learn about what they do.


Workshop focuses on communicating value of research, innovation

By Jake Akervik, Research Services

We all understand that research and innovation are valuable, as evidenced by our actions. In September, I stood in line on the seventh floor at Central Office for 45 minutes waiting to be stuck with a long, sharp needle because I know that research shows flu shots help protect us against the flu.

So what is the value of getting a flu shot?

By getting the shot, I am less likely to get the seasonal flu, which means I won’t spend many weekdays at home watching “The Price is Right” and eating saltines. Also, if I don’t get the flu I can’t spread it to others.

We can see from the flu example that there is obvious value in science, research, technology and innovations that allow us to produce millions of flu vaccine doses. Because we are surrounded by amazing feats of engineering and technology every day, we don’t always see the value of research and innovation. We don’t always stop to think about how research and innovation contribute to the construction of better and safer roadways.
The challenge of communicating the value of research and innovation is one that Mn/DOT deals with on a consistent basis, whether we’re finding support for implementing a new process, securing funding for better equipment or quantifying the return on investment of money spent on projects.


In order to address some of these challenges, research services hosted a three-day “Communicating the Value of Transportation Research” pilot workshop and peer exchange from Nov. 2–4 at the Arden Hills Training Center.

Representatives from eight state transportation departments joined Mn/DOT representatives from the offices of Communications, Maintenance, Market Research, Materials, State Aid and Traffic, and representatives from the University of Minnesota and Local Road Research Board to share experiences and learn about how we can better communicate the value of transportation research and innovation.

The workshop “Guidebook” and “Guidebook Overview” was created as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Project 20-78 to help transportation practitioners learn the importance of using communication professionals, plans and best practices.

While the goal of the workshop was to improve communicating the value of transportation research, most of the information and strategies in the report can be used to help improve internal and external communications at the program and project levels.

A report that summarizes the workshop and peer exchange will be available soon. For a copy of the report or for more information about how Research Services can help you communicate the value of your research project, contact Linda Taylor, director of Research Services, at or 651-366-3765.

Please visit Mn/DOT Research Services at

Employees interested in submitting commentaries on topics of departmentwide interest can visit http://ihub.newsline/submissions.html

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