Jan. 23, 2013
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MnDOT tests technology to assist truckers, improve safety

By Chris Krueger

Overhead sign

Changeable message signs will be one way truck drivers can learn of available parking space along I-94 through technology MnDOT is now testing. The study is intended to see whether this information helps truck drivers find parking and reduce fatigue. File photo

Travelers who stop at the Interstate 94 Elm Creek Rest Area two miles northwest of the intersection of I-94 and I-494 may notice cameras in the parking lot as part of a research project MnDOT is conducting.

The cameras, which were activated this month and will be tested through April 2013, will check the availability of parking for truckers.

The project will test whether this information improves truck drivers’ ability to find parking and reduce driver fatigue. After the testing phase, the system will notify truck drivers and freight carriers of parking space through a website, in-cab messaging and changeable message signs along I-94.

“Real-time information about the availability of space is critical to truckers who need to determine if they should pull off at the current stop or continue to the next location,” said John Tompkins, freight project manager. “The information could help drivers make trip decisions that will improve their safety and the safety of all motorists.”

Federal rules require truck drivers to stop and rest after 11 hours of driving. If drivers continue, they could become dangerously fatigued, be forced to park in unsafe locations such as freeway ramps, or face legal penalties.

The project uses a network of automated cameras and wireless servers to check truck stops and public rest areas along the I-94 corridor for available truck parking spaces and relay this information in real time to truck drivers. To distribute the information, the system creates sophisticated GPS “buffers” around both parking facilities and moving trucks. When a truck approaches a digitized buffer at 20-, 10-, 5- or 1-mile points, the driver receives a notification indicating how many spaces are available at each upcoming parking facility. This particular system ensures that drivers are not in violation of the new federal ban on texting and cell phone use. 

“Using cameras to share real-time information is groundbreaking,” Tompkins said. The cameras only identify empty parking spaces.

Starting in spring 2013, MnDOT also will install and test cameras at Big Spunk Lake Rest Area (1.5 miles west of Avon interchange), Lake Latoka Rest Area (one mile northwest of junction with Highway 27) and Pilot Travel Center (exit 100) near Alexandria. Research will be complete by the end of 2013.

I-94 is one of the most heavily traveled truck corridors in Minnesota outside the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, and will provide a good sample for the study.

Funding for the project includes $2.1 million from the Federal Highway Administration and $227,000 from MnDOT.


Governor’s budget request aims to “build a better Minnesota”

Gov. Mark Dayton released a budget proposal Jan. 22 that focused on improving the lives of Minnesotans through major investments in education, new initiatives for a stronger economy, and a fair tax system.

The governor’s budget request also focuses on key transportation investments, including $20 million for the Transportation Economic Development Program, which MnDOT administers in partnership with the Department of Employment and Economic Development and the Public Facilities Authority.

“Governor Dayton sees this next legislative session as Minnesota’s moment, an opportunity to build a better Minnesota by making investments that grow the economy and the middle class in Minnesota. His goals for this budget are a growing economy with more jobs, a responsible and balanced budget and a fair tax system. He wants to build a world-class state,” Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a note sent to employees after the budget announcement.

“As we all know, transportation is a key element in building a strong state economy. Every year, MnDOT puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy infrastructure construction projects. Those projects and our other work support thousands of jobs in the construction and consulting industries. And that funding and the subsequent work help maintain a transportation infrastructure that is important to a strong, vibrant economy and to a high quality of life for Minnesota citizens.”

Legislative hearing

Scott Peterson, Government Affairs director (left), and Commissioner Charlie Zelle present an agency overview to the House Transportation Finance Committee on Jan. 16, the commissioner's second day on the job. Photo by Kevin Gutknecht

Chevy Volts, charging stations arrive at Water’s Edge, CO

By Jessica Wiens

Two hybrid vehicles

Two new plug-in hybrid/electric Chevy Volts at Water’s Edge and Central Office are available for employees to use for work travel. Funding for the vehicles was provided from the Destination Innovation program. Photo by David Gonzalez  

Water’s Edge and Central Office employees may now use one of two new plug-in hybrid electric Chevy Volts for MnDOT travel. Both locations have electric charging stations in their garages.

Destination Innovation funds financed these new vehicles and charging stations. Jenny Morris, Office of Project Management and Technical Support, applied for and received DI funding for the project.

“We chose Water’s Edge and CO for this pilot project because the vehicles can operate entirely on electricity for shorter trips at lower speeds around the Twin Cities Metro area,” Morris said. “The vehicles can also fit other MnDOT business needs of traveling around the state when they switch to gas-power.”

The vehicle determines when to use electricity or gas. In general, Volts use all electricity for 30-35 miles and switch to using gasoline for longer trips. The engine allows the vehicle to go for hundreds of miles on a single tank of gas. Empty batteries take about four hours to charge.

Speed and driving style also affect performance. Driving at 50 mph or lower and avoiding rapid acceleration and deceleration maximizes the number of miles per charge.     

As part of the pilot, MnDOT will compare the Volt’s performance to that of other vehicles such as the Chevy Impala, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Prius. Evaluators will compare annual fuel and electricity use, annual operating cost and cost per mile, as well as maintenance costs, emissions, resale value and user satisfaction.

These results will inform decisions of whether or not to purchase additional Volts or other hybrid/electric vehicles and install charging stations at other MnDOT office locations.

“The Volts require a larger initial investment, but have potential to save taxpayer dollars in the long run and are more environmentally friendly than traditional gas-powered vehicles,” said Nick Thompson, project sponsor and division director for Policy, Safety and Strategic Initiatives.

Water’s Edge and CO employees will soon receive specific instructions on how to reserve one of these vehicles. Demonstration events will occur in February.


Technology tool provides more ways for employees to communicate, collaborate

Shawn Combs Walding, Office of Capital Programs and Performance Measures, tests out Microsoft Lync during its first day of broad MnDOT use. Combs Walding used it to instant message with employees on other floors for quick questions, instead of using email. Photo by Jessica Wiens  

Nearly 1,500 MnDOT employees now have access to Microsoft Lync, the department’s latest desktop technology tool that enables virtual meetings, screen sharing, instant messaging and more from different work locations statewide.

First tested last spring with more than 100 users, the tool was deployed Jan. 23 to another 1,400 employees. Office directors and district engineers had the option of whether to have their employees use the service, which costs $1.95 per account per month.

“Lync allows employees to quickly and informally share information, and helps to keep trivial emails out of the system,” said Genelle Gotham, MN.IT @ DOT project consultant.

Among other benefits, Lync allows users to:

  • Convene meetings without participants being physically present or having to schedule a room
  • Schedule online conferences via Outlook  
  • Hold informal conversations through instant messaging
  • Have a quick visual reference to check someone’s availability  
  • Reduce email traffic

While useful for informal conversations, Gotham noted that Lync is not intended for documenting MnDOT business decisions since it doesn’t archive conversations, nor should it be used for sending attachments or sending not public data since there is no encryption capacity.

Stephany Osuji, Customer Relations, has been using Lync since last spring. Customer Relations staff is split between the fourth and seventh floors in Central Office, and she finds the tool useful for quick questions to her co-workers located on the fourth floor.

“You could pick up a phone, but not every question warrants a full phone conversation,” she said. “With Lync you can tell if they’re at their desk and send them an instant message about whether we are meeting at a certain time or whether they received a particular email. It helps the communication flow more easily.”

Osuji also uses Lync’s desktop sharing feature, which she has found helpful in collaborating on documents and PowerPoint presentations with co-workers at other locations.

“Everyone can benefit from this tool. It enhances your work,” she said.

“I like it,” said Bob Filipczak, Office of Communications. “I like having video and I like having audio.”

Filipczak is the department’s social media coordinator. He works several days a week from the District 3/St. Cloud headquarters and uses Lync’s webcam feature for short check-ins with his supervisor and other co-workers in Central Office. He’s also connected to Lync users in other state agencies, such as the Department of Health.

“It gets rid of email that would just pile up. I would like to see more people use it,” he said.

Cindy Carlsson, Government Affairs, also uses Lync to connect with people from other agencies. She’s working on a joint environmental quality project with Pollution Control Agency staff and finds Lync an easy way to coordinate what documents or other materials to bring to meetings.

“It’s good for things that you don’t need to keep an email trail on,” she said, adding that she also uses Lync to coordinate breaks or lunch dates with friends.
Lync stems from the E-magination Jam exercises MnDOT employees participated in 2009 and 2011. It supports goals of both the Workplace of Choice and Tech Connections initiatives.

For more information, see


Research Services annual report released

By Nick Busse

MnDOT Research Services released its latest annual report, highlighting its transportation research activities for Fiscal Year 2012. The report, which also covers MnDOT Library and Local Road Research Board activities, can be downloaded from the Research Services website.

In addition to highlighting key transportation research, Annual Report includes two-page Technical Summaries of completed projects, feature articles and details about Research Services’ finances and outreach activities.

Note that the report is available for download in both print- and screen-friendly formats. Those who would like a printed copy of the report can request one by contacting Research Services at or 651-366-3780.


New Library Materials posted on Web

By Qin Tang

The December 2012 edition of New Library Materials is now available at 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 library’s distribution list, contact Pam Gonzalez at 651-366-3749.  

Previous editions of New Library Materials are archived and available at

For other information requests, contact the Library at 651-366-3791 or e-mail, or send requests via the “Ask a Librarian” Web page at


Paving the way for 30 years as a woman engineer

Editor's note: The following is a reflection of recently retired District 6 Engineer Nelrae Succio. Succio came to MnDOT in 1982—a time when female engineers were scarce at MnDOT.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a master’s degree in management of technology from the University of Minnesota. As a 30-year veteran of the agency, Succio claims many engineering accomplishments across the state. Beyond that, she is extremely proud to be among other women trail-blazers in the agency. 

Some of her achievements include:

  • One of the first female grad engineers hired (1982)
  • First female construction project engineer (1984)
  • First female assistant district engineer for Maintenance (1994)
  • Project manager to design and build MnROAD research facility (1989-94)
  • First female construction engineer in Construction Managers Group (1994)
  • First female district engineer (1998)
  • First female to supervise all district engineers in the state (2001)
  • Member of MnDOT’s Diversity Council (18 years)

By Nelrae Succio

Growing up, my test scores were always highest in math and science. Yet my high school counselor told me women are teachers, nurses or secretaries. After getting my first degree in music education, I couldn’t find a job. So I began taking classes again. 

My criteria for a new career included:

  • Work anywhere in the U.S.
  • Possibly work outdoors
  • Make $20,000 a year
  • Use my strengths in science and math

Several of my cousins (all male) were engineers, so it seemed like an interesting and viable option for me. I also thought it would challenge me in new ways.

MnDOT hired me as a grad engineer in 1982. That year, the department hired 13-14 women into the program in an attempt to diversify the workforce. Four of us women were placed in the districts for the first time ever, and my assignment was in the Brainerd office. I made $9.44 an hour. This wasn’t quite $20,000 a year, but the goal was in sight. And I knew that I wanted to be a district engineer one day.    

During that first assignment, I went alone to the Bituminous Conference. When I walked in the door, I could have heard a pin drop. Every head turned to look at me. The room fell silent, and all of the men wondered if I was lost.

I was very serious my first year or two on the job. I barely laughed or smiled because I wanted to fit in and be taken seriously. I focused on doing everything just like the men. I tried to be like them for so long and be “one of the guys,” I think I lost myself for a while and didn’t bring all of myself to the workplace every day.

I often experienced situations where my opinions or suggestions were ignored. Then a male counterpart said the exact same thing and everybody acted like it was the best idea they heard all day.

The assistant district engineer in Brainerd, Dave Smilonich, helped me get exposure to several different areas. He treated me fairly and equally. He and other mentors gave me advice and watched my back, which I needed. 

As I matured in the organization, I figured out how I could be me. I learned quickly that whenever I began a new position, I’d be greatly tested. Men had the privilege of others automatically accepting their credentials. I didn’t have that. I had to work for mine.

Today MnDOT focuses so much more on hiring women and minority employees, which is great. But we still have a long way to go. Looking around at the managers conferences, I notice that a glass ceiling remains. In the management ranks, we have gender diversity but not racial diversity. MnDOT must continue working towards that.

One of the achievements I’m most proud of is changing the culture in District 6. When I walked in the door as district engineer, employees were used to a district engineer who operated with command and control leadership. I’m not like that. I work with people. And they work with me, not for me. We’ve brought a lot of diversity into District 6 in several ways and at all levels.

In December 2012, I went back to that same bituminous conference—now the Asphalt Paver’s Conference and Award Banquet. I walked in and was greeted by several diverse people—MnDOT employees and contractors alike. The landscape of that conference and the entire industry has changed tremendously in my 30-year career.

I am also proud of helping women in the department by paving the way and opening doors. Holding the positions I had has led to greater acceptance of women in some non-traditional roles. Together, we’ve proven that women can do the job, given the opportunity.

Before retiring, I was champion of the MnDOT-sanctioned employee resource group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning employees and allies. LGBTQ employees need to feel welcome and included in this department. I am honored to have been their champion, even though I know some folks questioned my doing that.

My advice for women and members of all minority groups who are new at MnDOT is to take advantage of every opportunity. Don’t be afraid to try new things and move to new places. Get out there and be yourself, because being yourself is pretty darn good. Otherwise, MnDOT wouldn’t have hired you.

I’ve paid forward what my mentors did for me. I nurtured and advised several women and men as they grew in their careers. And I gave many people opportunities to do different things and gain experience in other areas of the department.

Wonderful people make up this agency. We do great work, and I’m proud of the years I’ve served the state of Minnesota. Like so many, I never thought about a career in public service before I came to MnDOT, but I’m so glad that’s how it worked out.

Nelrae Succio

Nelrae Succio (right) listens to stories and speeches from several speakers during her retirement celebration at the Rochester Truck Station in December. Photo by David Gonzalez

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