Nov. 10, 2010
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Innovative, context sensitive design puts Mn/DOT in winnerís circle

By Beth Petrowske

Hwy 1

The new Hwy 1 Kawishiwi river bridge near Ely has shoulders that provide an extra measure of safety for motorists. Photo by John Bray

Four Mn/DOT projects exemplifying innovation and context sensitive solutions recently won three awards of excellence and one honorable mention in the 2010 FHWA Excellence in Highway Design awards competition.

The department placed in four of the competition’s 10 categories:

The biennial competition promotes the use of innovation and context sensitivity to enhance safety, improve mobility, protect the environment, deliver projects in a timely manner and use limited resources effectively.

“There were some very impressive entries from all across the county,” said Scott Bradley, director of context sensitive solutions. “In spite of this, Mn/DOT projects received more than 20 percent of the awards presented.

“Achieving context sensitive solutions is viewed by FHWA as one of the most critical challenges facing the transportation industry,” Bradley said. “These awards showcase exemplary approaches and projects that successfully meet this challenge.”  

Hwy 1 project faces challenges

Before the Hwy 1 reconstruction project in northern Minnesota received any awards, District 1 engineers were dealing with many challenges associated with the project.

"Some people thought that Hwy 1 should not be changed because of its historical and environmental importance,” said Mike Robinson, District 1 engineer. “Others believed it should be redesigned to improve safety and provide a reliable route for loggers and other commercial traffic.”

In addition, there were some unique engineering challenges involved with the project, including rolling the 131-ton Kawishiwi river bridge to a temporary location for motorists to use while the new bridge was being built. Crews dismantled the old bridge after the new bridge was built.


Latest class of emerging leaders begins journey

By Lydia Bergen, Office of Human Resources

emerging leaders

Past and present participants in the Emerging Leaders Institute gathered for lunch with Commissioner Tom Sorel on Nov. 4. From left, Emma Corrie, Policy, Safety & Strategic Initiatives Division; Dan Ross, Information & Technology Services; Kristi Grunewald, Information & Technology Services; Bonnie Wohlberg, Human Resources; Tracy Hatch, Operations Division; Linda Davis-Johnson, division business manager; Dan Whebbe, District 3 Transportation Operations; Kay McDonald, Information & Technology Services; Linda Hinrichs, Workforce Development; Sue Sheehan, Office of Traffic, Safety & Technology; Commissioner Tom Sorel. Photo by Bob Filipczak

Interested in strengthening your leadership skills? How about receiving an individual 360-degree assessment on your professional strengths and weaknesses? Four Mn/DOT employees are beginning to experience these and several other benefits as part of this year’s Emerging Leaders Institute program.

Minnesota Management & Budget introduced ELI in 2006 to address the issue of developing future leaders for state positions. Mn/DOT continues to be a strong supporter of the developmental program, as is evident by the annual presence of Mn/DOT participants.

“It is an honor to participate in this year’s ELI program, as it acknowledges the importance of recognizing potential and developing ethical leaders and excellence in public service,” said Emma Corrie, workforce and business development project manager in the Policy, Safety & Strategic Initiatives Division. “Commissioner Sorel’s presence at the opening ceremony demonstrated the department’s commitment to the program and our commitment as an agency in leading transformational and sustainable change in state government.”

ELI has been preparing groups of state government employees for the next generation of leadership having graduated four classes to date. The class of 2010 – 2011 is just beginning its journey to becoming more successful and effective leaders in the workplace.

“With just one of seven sessions under my belt, I am very intrigued by what this program has to offer,” said Sue Sheehan, Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology. “I look forward to continuing to develop the knowledge and skills I need to become a more effective leader and to confidently influence and inspire others to accomplish the department’s goals and objectives.”

The journey for the class began in September and will continue through March 2011. The class meets twice a month and completes assignments outside of the classroom. Topics include:

  • Dynamic leadership
  • Ethics, power and influence
  • Building cultural competence
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Accelerating innovation

Mn/DOT can claim six alumni of the program, including Linda Hinrichs, Workforce Development manager and 2009 ELI graduate.

“The ELI program gave me a greater appreciation of the challenges leaders face every day,” Hinrichs said. “It increased my self awareness and motivated me personally to become a better leader.” 

For more information about the Emerging Leaders Institute, visit


New statewide system manages learning activities

By Lucy Kender, Office of Human Resources

Mn/DOT will be one of the first state agencies to transition to the new statewide training management system known as Enterprise Learning Management. Current plans call for the department to make the switch to the new system in 2011.

ELM will give the state of Minnesota a single, integrated system for planning, scheduling, delivering, tracking and reporting on learning activities such as:

  • Training
  • E-learning
  • Testing
  • Independent assignments
  • Survey results

ELM will replace the current Employee Capability Management System.

“The ELM system will be used for the first time for training and registration for SWIFT—the state’s new financial system—and should be available for that training starting in February and March,” said Tony Cairns, Office of Human Resources and the department’s liaison to Minnesota Management and Budget during the system’s development. “The rest of the agency will transition by the end of June.

“Eventually all employees will use the ELM system for their training records and registration by simply logging in to the Employee Self Service page,” Cairns said. “We just want to give folks a heads up that the new system is on the horizon and that more information and training will be available as the project progresses.”

For updates on the new ELM system, visit

Open enrollment runs through Nov. 30

This year’s open enrollment period is underway and will run through Nov. 30.

Open enrollment allows employees to change their medical insurance carriers and add or drop dependent coverage on medical insurance. Employees may also enroll in or increase long-term disability.

Additionally, employees can enroll in the 2011 pre-tax accounts for the medical dental expense account, dependent care or daycare expense account and the transit expense account.

During the enrollment period, employees can choose to complete a health assessment and agree to a follow-up call by a health coach to receive a lower office visit copayment.

For more information on open enrollment, visit


New Library Materials posted on Web

By Qin Tang

The October 2010 edition of New Library Materials is now available at

Check out the latest New Library Materials to read about the library’s grand reopening celebration being planned for Dec. 15. Mark it on your calendar and join the library staff in celebrating the successful completion of the library remodeling project.

New Library Materials is a compilation of new titles and other resources added to the library collection during the previous month. If you would like to be added to the distribution list, please contact Pam Gonzalez at 651-366-3749.  

For other information requests, contact the library at 651-366-3791 or e-mail Employees can also send requests via the “Ask a Librarian” Web page at ihub.library/asklibrarian.html or

Department receives award for material development, innovation

concrete work

Workers place sheets of wet burlap over freshly placed concrete on the new I-694 bridges at Hwy 5 in Oakdale. The sheets provide a wet cure for the concrete. Photo by Mark Spafford

Mn/DOT recently received the 2010 Material Development and Innovation award from the Minnesota Concrete Council for work on the Interstate 694 bridges over Hwy 5 in Oakdale.

This was the department’s first project that used a performance-based concrete mix designed solely between the contractor and concrete supplier.

“The new innovative concrete mix design puts full responsibility on the contractor and concrete supplier to produce a mix that meets all of the basic criteria set forth in the specifications, but allows the contractor flexibility to meet the criteria as they best see fit,” said Paul Kivisto, Metro bridge engineer. Kivisto is one of many employees from the Materials Office and Bridge Office who worked on developing the performance-based specification for the contractor.

The new concrete mix will significantly mitigate cracking on the recently completed I-694 bridge decks, according to Kivisto.

Transportation for future generations

By Commissioner Tom Sorel

St. Peter

Commissioner Tom Sorel and some of his senior staff toured St. Peter, Minn., last week to see what elements the community had that support the department's sustainability concept. Photo by Cindy Carlsson

Sustainable transportation, or sustainability, is what is now shaping Mn/DOT’s vision for delivering a safe, reliable and modern transportation system.

Sustainability requires that our efforts at Mn/DOT respect, support and regenerate the environment, the economy and society both now and for future generations.

Environmentally, this means using and providing transportation solutions that do not harm the environment. Examples include recycling pavement, context sensitive solutions and using hybrid vehicles in our fleet. We want to reduce the amount of pollution we generate, keep the water clean and do no harm to the environment.  

Economically, sustainable transportation solutions develop infrastructure that is cost-efficient over the life of the facility and are within society’s ability and willingness to pay.

In the area of society, sustainable solutions seek to improve the quality of life for all people, such as making transportation systems accessible, safe and secure, and ensuring mobility choices are available to all people. 

Last week, I took some of my senior staff to St. Peter, Minn., to visit an excellent example of a sustainable community. We toured the city, by bus and by foot, and saw other elements—such as the neighborhoods, the local food co-op and the St. Peter Wastewater Treatment Facility—that support the sustainability concept. We spoke with several city officials, as well as members of our own staff from the Mankato Office—Matt Rottermond, Hwy 169 project manager, and Rebecca Arndt, district public affairs coordinator—who were instrumental in the success of the project.

That project has received national attention, as well. In April, a group of federal officials toured St. Peter to see an example of sustainability. And the Hwy 169 project was recognized earlier this year with a national award from the American Association of Highway and Transportation Officials.

The focus on sustainability is driven by many factors. Our demographics as a society are changing. Travel patterns and methods are altering as is the way we use housing. We are seeing a change in what many of us would have considered normal in those areas. We are beginning to face a “new normal.”

To ensure that the transportation products and services we deliver serve this new normal and society best, we need to incorporate sustainability into all that we do. If we do this, we will continue to deliver a safe, reliable and modern transportation system while improving the quality of life of Minnesota citizens, now and into the future.

If you have any specific questions about the Sustainability Flagship Initiative, please contact Cindy Carlsson, Office of Policy Analysis, Research and Innovation, 651-366-3313, who is leading Mn/DOT’s sustainability effort.

Road to recovery: Vacation donation program eases the pain

By Don Obernolte, Office of Technical Support


Don Obernolte, Office of Technical Support, became eligible for the state’s vacation donation program in February 2008. Photo by Nick Carpenter

Two of the greatest things about working at Mn/DOT are the people and the state’s vacation donation program, which allows those wonderful people to help one another through difficult times.

This past October marked the third anniversary of a day that changed my life forever—a day that would mark the beginning of a long, strenuous recovery process that would exhaust all of my vacation and sick leave.   

It was Friday, Oct. 19, 2007. As I had done for more than 40 years, I was cutting down trees for firewood at my family farm in northern Minnesota near McGregor. I already felled four trees and had made my wedge cut on the fifth. Just as I was touching my back-cut, faster than I could blink, straight line winds blew and the 1,600-pound tree snapped, knocked me backwards and landed on top, crushing me.

Thankfully, I had my nephew with me that day to help. I suffered more than 60 fractures—12 ribs, collarbone, shoulder, tibia, fibula and ankle. I also had a collapsed lung, bruised heart and stretched aorta. In order to stabilize me, doctors put me in a coma. I remained unconscious for 17 of my 21 days in intensive care, followed by another six weeks of hospitalization, and now, years of therapy. 

My road to recovery was just beginning. It would be eight months before I returned to Mn/DOT part time in May 2008—working 12 hours a week. Eight months is a long time to be off work. At four months, my vacation and sick leave accruals ran out and I faced the possibility of going on disability, which would have placed a huge financial burden on my family. The accident didn’t just change my life, my family had to adapt their schedules to make sure I was cared for and my wife had to leave her job as a nurse to aid in my recovery. Her loss of income coupled with going on disability would have resulted in my family losing our health insurance and ultimately filing for bankruptcy.

I became eligible for the state’s vacation donation program in February 2008, which allowed me to remain on the department’s payroll and maintain my insurance coverage. Without this program my recovery would have terminated. We still had to make various lifestyle changes to accommodate for the loss of my wife’s income, but we were able to maintain what we had. Thanks to the generosity of many anonymous co-workers and other state employees, I was able to return to work full time in February 2009.

I know firsthand what this program means to employees and their families who have experienced extended absences from work due to illness or serious injury. I encourage all employees who have extra vacation time to donate to someone in need. By doing so, you can change someone’s life and get them back to where they want to be. I am honored to work with such a fine group of people, and I thank you for your continuing support of the vacation donation program.
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