July 14, 2010
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Geofoam proves to be prescription for unstable roadbeds

By Bob Filipczak


Crews stack Geofoam blocks in place under what will soon be the new 34th Street at I-94 in Moorhead. The blocks are being used to stabilize the 34th Street bridge approaches and minimize settlement over time. Photo by Seth Yliniemi

Styrofoam has gotten a bad rap as packaging material because, once discarded, it tends to last forever. It’s precisely that “forever” quality that makes it useful for road construction. 

Several transportation agencies around the country, including Mn/DOT, have turned to Geofoam, which is essentially a large block of dense Styrofoam that helps construction crews build roads when the local soil isn’t stable enough. 

Geofoam is currently being used on a few different state highway projects, including the Interstate 35 Duluth Mega Project (Video) and the I-94/34th Street interchange project in Moorhead. 

“Geofoam is excellent for building stable roadways with high embankments over weak soils like those found near the Red River,” said Seth Yliniemi, District 4 project engineer. “The anticipated settlement over time of the existing soil was up to two-and-a-half feet without the lightweight fill.”

The foam blocks the contractor supplied are three feet thick, four feet wide and 16 feet long. It takes about four crew members to pick them up and put them in place.

“It’s kind of like putting Legos together,” Yliniemi said.

The Geofoam is planted right under the roadbed and the blocks provide a stable surface that weighs only one percent of normal fill, such as gravel or dirt. Once installed, they provide a consistent base material with almost no settling.

While time and natural elements don’t affect Geofoam—thus reducing repairs that might be required with less stable materials—Yliniemi and his team still cover and seal the blocks with an impermeable liner before they bury them.

“If a petroleum or chemical spill happened on the road and the liquid sank into the soil, it could dissolve the blocks and sink the roadway,” Yliniemi said.

Crews are installing the last of the Geofoam blocks this week and are scheduled to finish the entire project by this fall.

Report documents Minnesota transportation performance in 2009

Minnesota continues to make progress reducing traffic fatalities, improving state bridge conditions and providing statewide travel connections, according to the Annual Minnesota Transportation Performance Report recently released by Mn/DOT. In addition, the report shows that the agency regularly met its goals for clearing snow and ice from roads.

“The release of the second annual performance review demonstrates Mn/DOT’s commitment to continually measure our performance and be accountable to the public,” said Commissioner Tom Sorel. “The data helps the department and its transportation partners set priorities and make decisions, ensuring that the investments we make can be understood by citizens.”

The report provides a customer view of transportation performance throughout 2009, assessing 18 performance measures and monitoring indicators that track progress on 10 department policy goals. The measures represent what Minnesotans have indicated are the most important services and are similar to those used by other states and the USDOT.

The report indicates that while some of Minnesota’s highways and local railroad lines show their age, new revitalized transportation choices are relieving pressure on roads and meeting citizen demands for choices. The report also documents that pavement condition continues to decline, due to an aging system and competing investment needs.

Although the department issued the state’s first transportation performance report last year, the agency has been using performance measurement tools since the early 1990s, according to Mark Larson, Office of Capital Programs and Performance Measures. Mn/DOT uses performance targets to guide investments and stimulate innovation. The department sets targets at levels that meet the needs of transportation customers, assure safety and sound engineering, extend the life and minimize the cost of transportation assets, use public dollars efficiently and support the state’s economy and quality of life.

To view the 2009 Performance Report and a 2009 Transportation Results Scorecard, visit


Study reveals enforcement decreases speeds on targeted highways

Hwy 2 in Polk County leads a list of six segments of highways around the state that showed a decrease in speeding when law enforcement was present.

The Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology recorded travel speed data on select roadways between October 2008–March 2009. The data was collected without the presence of law enforcement. During the same six-month span a year later, the department recorded data with speed patrols in effect.

Preliminary figures showed the percentage of motorists driving 10 mph over the limit decreased from 13 percent during the non-enforcement period to 11 percent during increased patrols, which is considered a significant drop based on volume of traffic. Overall, there are now 61,292 fewer vehicles driving 10 mph above the posted speed limit compared to the non-enforcement measuring period.

Among the corridors that recorded fewer speeders traveling 10 mph over the limit since enforcement began are:

• Interstate 35 in Chisago County — 7.21 percent reduction
• Hwy 2 in Polk County — 26.6 percent reduction
• Hwy 14 in St. Louis County — 1.47 percent reduction
• Hwy 169 in Scott County — 0.07 percent reduction
• Hwy 36 in Washington County — 1 percent reduction
• Hwy 60 in Watowan County — 4.5 percent reduction

Increases in speeds were reported on Hwy 53 in St. Louis County (0.65 percent) and I-35W in Anoka County (3.12 percent).

Did you know...?

A motorist traveling at 65 mph compared to 55 mph will save only one minute and 41 seconds on a 10-mile trip.

- Minnesota Department of Public Safety

Photo by David Gonzalez

The study coincides with a statewide speed enforcement campaign in July coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which reports illegal and unsafe speeding as factors in around 130 deaths annually — about 70 percent of which occur in rural areas.

“Monitoring vehicle speeds through engineering practices is important to determine the effectiveness of these enforcement campaigns,” said Sue Groth, Mn/DOT Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology director. “Motorists need to understand that speed limits are posted for a reason — to reflect the maximum safe speed for the road’s design.”

The speed campaign is a component of the state’s core traffic safety initiative, Toward Zero Deaths, which focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response. The goal of the program is 400 or fewer deaths by the end of 2010.

TZD is a partnership led by the departments of Public Safety, Transportation and Health, in cooperation with state and local law enforcement, Minnesota County Engineers Association, and the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

For more information on the Toward Zero Deaths program, visit

Employee E-magination JAM ideas are becoming reality

By Beth Petrowske

Some of the ideas submitted by employees during the E-magination JAM last fall are becoming reality. These ideas are geared toward improving Mn/DOT processes, making the department more efficient and creating an environment that people want to work in.

All submitted ideas were sorted into seven themes. Three of these themes have been identified as Mn/DOT Flagship Initiatives—Technology Connections, Sustainability and Workplace of Choice.

“The ideas that employees submitted were beyond our best expectations for the E-JAM event and it was obvious to me that employees have great ideas for change and improvement at Mn/DOT,” said Commissioner Tom Sorel. “I personally want to thank employees for their ideas and engagement in innovation. Many of your ideas are being evaluated, expanded upon and pursued through our three flagship Initiatives.”

Tech Connections update

Kris Schulze, Office of Information and Technology Services, has been named Tech Connections project manager. She succeeds Matt Koukol, who recently accepted a position outside of Mn/DOT. Schulze will lead in the planning, development, coordination and implementation of ideas relating to Tech Connections to enhance communication, collaboration and knowledge-sharing through technology.

The Tech Connections group currently is developing the technical framework to implement a Web 2.0-based, interactive Web presence for Mn/DOT, which is expected to be available to employees this fall. Web 2.0 will facilitate information sharing and collaboration on the Web with the goal of providing easy access to information and resources and an open forum for discussions. 

Anyone interested in participating in the risk assessment process for a particular Tech Connections idea should contact Schulze at 651-366-4088.
Sustainability update

Three Sustainability ideas are either underway or being pilot tested. These ideas involve telecommuting, implementation of the Mississippi River Trail and the use of wind turbines. In addition, ideas related to bicycle commuting and carpooling are currently under discussion as part of a risk assessment process.

The Sustainability Initiative promotes innovative ways to:

  • Maintain a safe, reliable and modern transportation system
  • Improve access and enhance the movement of people and freight
  • Make Mn/DOT a transportation leader and employer of choice
  • Build public trust

The department’s Sustainability initiative aims to build on ideas submitted through the E-JAM related to:

  • “Green” buildings
  • Waste reduction and energy savings in the work place
  • Sustainable highway construction
  • Sustainability in planning and project development
  • Work-related travel

Anyone interested in participating in the risk assessment process in this area should contact Cindy Carlsson, Sustainability project manager, at 651-366-3313.

Workplace of Choice update

The ideas generated from E-JAM and the 2009 Transparency Workshop regarding Workplace of Choice have been separated into four portfolios—culture, workforce, health and wellness and corporate social responsibility.

Projects currently being reviewed include:

  • Optimizing and retaining the workforce
  • Planning for organization-wide succession and leadership development
  • Supporting flexible work schedules
  • Modifying current cell phone policy

WPOC projects stem from the vision of becoming a top employer of choice that supports a highly talented workforce and is recognized as a trusted partner in the community.

Anyone interested in participating in the risk assessment process in this area should contact Rebecca Fabunmi, Workplace of Choice project manager, at 651-366-4808.

Kris Schulze to lead Tech Connections initiative

Kris Schulze

Photo by David Gonzalez

Kris Schulze, Tech Connections project manager, recently returned to Mn/DOT to work in the Office of Information and Technology Services. Prior to leaving Mn/DOT in 2000, Schulze worked in a variety of roles including Transportation Data Services research and management analyst and supervisor. She also worked in the Performance Measurement and Evaluation section.

Schulze was involved with performance measurement in her job at Washington County and organizational development while working at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She also worked as an independent consultant prior to her return to Mn/DOT in May. 

Jake Akervik will serve as the Tech Connections assistant project manager. He will assist with planning, technology and policy analysis and communications.

Akervik was a member of the team that planned and implemented the E-JAM and currently leads Mn/DOT research efforts using Web content management, social media and Web 2.0 tools to modernize transportation research marketing and stakeholder collaboration.


Mel Odens named new assistant District 8 engineer

Mel Odens

Mel Odens replaces Tom Behm, who retired in February. Photo courtesy of District 8

Mel Odens has been appointed assistant district engineer in District 8 Willmar. Odens succeeds Tom Behm, who retired in February.

Odens will be responsible for state aid, bridges, signs and cost estimating for the 12 counties in District 8 and the seven state aid cities within those counties. He will work out of the Willmar and Marshall offices.

In his more than 25 years of public service, Odens has worked for both city and state government. Most recently, he served nearly 14 years as the city engineer/Public Works director for the city of Willmar. From 1985 to 1996, Odens worked as a supervisor and design engineer for the South Dakota Department of Transportation. 

Odens has been involved in the City Engineers Association of Minnesota, American Public Works Association, Local Road Research, Rotary and various state organizations and committees.

“I would like to thank everyone for all the cooperation and support I’ve received over the years and am looking forward to the opportunity this position has to offer,” Odens said. “I look forward to applying my knowledge of the local system and my past state experience in this position.”

Library redesign progresses on schedule

By Jake Finn

Work is moving along on a complete redesign of the library that focuses on providing a comfortable and functional work area for employees and guests. 

One new addition to the library is a recently installed wireless network, which employees can connect to by obtaining a username and password from library staff.  The login information will remain valid for up to eight hours. The service will allow access to streaming media and approved social networks, such as Facebook.

In addition to the wireless network, the library will soon be launching a new website and hosting an open house/technology fair later this fall once the remodeling is completed.

For more information, contact the library at 651-366-3791 or e-mail

Two Minnesota transportation projects receive AASHTO awards

By Angela Mathis

target field

Target Field Station is one of six stations along the 40-mile Northstar Commuter Rail line between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis. Photo by David Gonzalez

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials presented Mn/DOT with two America’s Transportation Awards for Innovative Management and Best Recovery Act project on July 9.

The department received the Innovative Management Award for its role in coordinating transportation choices to the new Target Field baseball park in downtown Minneapolis and the Best Recovery Act Award for its work on U.S. Hwy 169 through historic downtown St. Peter.

“Mn/DOT is proud to accept these awards on behalf of the many transportation partners that worked together to make these projects possible,” said Tom Sorel, Mn/DOT commissioner. “Both projects are terrific examples of collaboration at its best.”

Innovative Management – Destination Target Field project

Mn/DOT and a group of transportation partners conducted studies, developed a strategic plan and implemented a transportation management plan to coordinate transportation options and reduce traffic congestion in downtown Minneapolis during Target Field events.

“All the planning is successful—fans use all modes of transportation to arrive at Target Field and traffic congestion is minimal,” said Lisa Austin, ABC Ramps coordinator and bicycle and pedestrian planner for the Office of Transit.

As part of the project, changeable message signs were installed for those driving to Target Field as well as downtown drivers hoping to avoid event traffic. Signs on freeway systems alert motorists to congestion and recommend alternate exits, while signs in the downtown area direct traffic to available parking before games and away from congestion points after games.

Collaboration between many public and private sector groups resulted in effective congestion management and improved the experience for field-goers and the downtown community, according to Austin.

“Mn/DOT is honored to accept the award on behalf of all partners who worked so hard and accomplished so much,” said Austin. “Everyone made an effort to put the community first.”

Best Recovery Act (Small Project) – Hwy 169 project in St. Peter

The Hwy 169 project in downtown St. Peter received recognition as a Best Recovery Act project based on how it created jobs, improved infrastructure, affected the community and was implemented quickly. The project was largely constructed in 133 days and put more than 300 people to work with no lost-time injuries.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funded the $17 million design-build project.

“The stimulus money allowed us to complete the job in one season,” said Matt Rottermond, project manager. “Replacing utilities could have taken up to three construction seasons without stimulus funding.”

Pedestrian and traffic safety were other important aspects of the project. New sidewalks and pavement, raised medians, bump-outs, upgraded signal systems and other improvements for people with sight and hearing impairments were added to improve safety conditions.

To preserve and celebrate the historic business district of St. Peter, crews added decorative lighting, trees, raised planters and other pedestrian amenities that are expected to revitalize the area.

All those involved in the project collaborated well, according to Rottermond.

“The city of St. Peter worked well with Mn/DOT throughout planning and implementation, the contractor did a great job and met our goal of opening the road before Thanksgiving and local business owners were patient even though the road closure was a struggle for them,” Rottermond said. “Everyone put in a lot of work, and it’s great to see that recognized in the award.”

America’s Transportation Awards

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials presents awards to winners in four regional areas. Regional project winners compete for the Grand Prize and People’s Choice Award, which will be presented at the AASHTO Annual Meeting Oct. 31, 2010.

To learn more about the projects and the upcoming national competition, visit


I-35W bridge transforms into outdoor classroom for local students

By Angela Mathis


Students from the Anoka-Hennepin School District gather around Dustin Thomas, Metro District south region bridge construction engineer, under the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. The students are part of Discover U, a summer program that encourages higher education. Photo by Sara Peterson

Students from the Anoka-Hennepin School District received a two-hour course in Bridge Engineering 101 June 30.

Dustin Thomas, Metro District south region bridge construction engineer, met with two groups of about 40 incoming seventh graders at the I-35W bridge to talk about how math relates to engineering. The students were doing a week-long engineering unit for a summer program called Discover U, which aims to narrow the achievement gap for students of all backgrounds and encourage higher education.

The students learn in nontraditional settings and have more hands-on experiences outside the classroom, according to Ruth Kroonblawd, Jackson Middle School math teacher.

“For this field trip, we wanted the students to see someone using math outside of school,” Kroonblawd said.

Not only did Thomas speak about how math is used in bridge design and construction, he also explained how math relates to construction materials, computer programs that engineers use and economic issues like paying contractors.

Talking about these considerations on site had its benefits, according to Thomas.

“Standing underneath the I-35W bridge is a great vantage point—it’s impressive to see how big the bridge is,” Thomas said. “You can also see other bridges from there. It was neat to point to several bridges, show the differences between them and talk about why certain types are chosen for certain field conditions.”

Thomas also spoke about the training, education and licensing required of engineers as well as his experience in the field.

“Meeting with the students was a way for them to think about what they are studying and how it can be applied after they’re done with school,” Thomas said. “It also gave them an idea of what an engineering career would be like and of the things Mn/DOT considers when designing and building all types of projects.”

Overall, the field trip was educational and enjoyable for the students, according to Kroonblawd.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how much the students learned and retained,” said Kroonblawd. “It’s clear from the thank-you notes the students wrote (to Thomas) that it was an eye-opening experience for them.”

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