Aug. 21, 2019
Newsline Home Newsline Archives Print Newsline Submit News Feedback About Newsline iHub Home Web site

Table of Contents


Print Newsline
SELECT ALL or Click checkboxes below to select articles you wish to print.
Use your browser's Reset Button to deselect all.

Road Safety Week brings awareness to new laws that protect workers, motorists

Commissioner maragaret anne kelliher speaking at a podium. Gov. tim walz is to her left, three other people are two her right, and a busy section of freeway is behind her.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher speaks at a news conference Friday, Aug. 2, at the Interstate 94 Mackubin Street pedestrian bridge in St. Paul. The event was part of a weeklong effort to bring awareness to new road safety laws that went into effect Aug. 1. Joining Anderson Kelliher are Gov. Tim Walz (right) and Carrie Robles (left), LIUNA Local 563, and two LIUNA members.

New laws include banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving; requiring slower drivers to stay in the right lane; and allowing work zone flaggers to report drivers for violating their directions. Photo by Chris Joyce


MnROAD celebrates 25 years of research, experimentation

By Joseph Palmersheim

A man in a yellow safety vests gestures toward a section of concrete roadway, as others look at it too.

Engineer Thomas Burnham (right) explains a Portland cement concrete patch at the MnROAD open house on Aug. 8. Longer-lasting patches on Minnesota's PCC pavements will reduce the need for lane closures, user delays and maintenance costs. This can increase the availability of state district maintenance staff to perform other duties. Photo by Micaela Resh

In 1993, Gregory Johnson was working at the University of Minnesota on a project funded by MnDOT. Through those connections, he was offered a position as a MnDOT soil scientist working on something new - the MnROAD project.

“The project was so different from a typical MnDOT project,” said Johnson, who now serves as an assistant bituminous engineer with the Office of Materials Road and Research. “People were excited about what we could learn.”

More than two decades later, people are still excited about MnROAD. Nearly 120 people attended an open house Aug. 8 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The Otsego-based facility is a pavement test track made up of various research materials and pavements owned and operated by MnDOT, working with its National Road Research Alliance partners and other researchers around the world. Through research and experimentation, MnROAD finds ways to make roads last longer, perform better and cost less to build and maintain. These roads can also be built faster and have minimal effect on the environment.

MnROAD has more than 50 unique test sections on various roadway segments: a 3.5-mile section (I-94) mainline; a 3.5-mile section of the original westbound lane of I-94; and a 2.5-mile low-volume road. Researchers use all three of these sections to collect detailed asphalt, concrete and base material performance data with the help of nearly 6,000 pavement sensors located in each test section.

“We’re trying to solve questions about what kind of materials we should use in our roadways,” said Ben Worel, MnROAD operations engineer. “There’s always new advancements in materials, additives, new ways of doing things. We try to test these things on small sections before doing it across the system, and we’re also working with other states and groups to come up with ways to manage our roadways in the most effective manner we can. We can take risks here. If things work, they can save us lots of money on the whole system.”

MnROAD was constructed from 1990 through 1993 at a cost of $25 million, funded by state and federal sources. Like Johnson, Thomas Burnham was a University of Minnesota student who ended up joining MnDOT. He worked on the project starting in 1991.

“It sounded interesting,” he said. “I collected and organized the hundreds of soil samples and tests during the construction of the first phase of MnROAD. I also helped out with installation of the numerous sensors embedded into the roadway. Constructing and instrumenting such a large road research facility was not something that was commonplace. Because the site has a high water table and silty-clay soils, up to two weeks of delay would take place every time it rained, [which meant] waiting for the sections to dry out before moving on to the next layer. This, and the need to connect 23 cabinets and hundreds of miles of sensor wire, is why it took over three years to construct five miles of pavement.”

Research expanded significantly in 2017 when test sections were installed featuring experiments designed by the National Road Research Alliance, a cooperative initiative that includes eight state DOTs and more than 50 private organizations.

MnROAD studies were estimated to save $33 million per year during Phase I (1994-2007) and $10.3 million per year during Phase II (2007-2017).

“Both outweigh our initial investments into MnROAD and its research,” Worel said. “The future is bright for the upcoming years with MnDOT and its NRRA partners.”

Some of the discoveries or developments from MnROAD research include:

  • Development of setting seasonal load restrictions (winter overloads/spring load restrictions)
  • Development of a process to select the right asphalt binder to reduce thermal cracking for asphalt roadways
  • Reduction of concrete thickness for future roadways (past designs were too conservative, Worel said)

Any data collected at MnROAD is public, meaning it can be shared with universities, other DOTs and industries.

In addition to being the longest-running facility of its kind, MnROAD is the only one run by a state DOT. It’s also the only one that works with both asphalt and concrete. The other large scale test facility is the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University, which runs a test track in Opelika, Ala. MnROAD and NCAT work very closely on a number of national projects, Worel said.  

The relative scarcity of facilities like MnROAD puzzles Dr. Matthew Witczak, who served as a consultant to assist in the overall conceptual design of the facility in 1987.

“To me, reflecting upon my nearly 60-year career in the pavement community, MnROAD was an absolutely ingenious idea that merged together the practical necessity of conducting advanced research studies with actual field performance monitoring,” Witczak said. “This, by far, is the biggest advantage a facility like MnROAD offers. It is important for the traveling public to know and understand that design and prediction of transportation facilities is a very complex engineering task, and we still do not thoroughly understand, nor can we accurately model, all of the actual pavement damages that do occur in practice. In order for engineers to gain knowledge and a better understanding of the behavior of pavement systems, the public must understand we can only gain a better understanding of the ‘state of the art’ by learning from actual, controlled and monitored failures.”

Since its inception, MnROAD has grown from a Minnesota-based facility to a Minnesota-based resource. The partnership with NRRA has connected it to seven state DOTs (Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, North Dakota, Missouri and California) and more than 50 industries, associations and academic institutions.

"NRRA helps facilitate the discussion on innovation and what the future focus should be for developing research needs for the group,” Worel said. “It’s been very positive in supporting our partnerships and has helped MnROAD develop a broader perspective on advancements and where we need to go in the future.”

Burnham says he was lucky to stumble into a unique career with the opportunity to share knowledge with practitioners around the world.

“I hope Minnesotans appreciate the jewel they have with the MnROAD facility,” Burnham said. “Given our extreme climate and growing traffic volumes, it has been a valuable tool in extending the life of our pavements, as well as saving millions of taxpayer dollars. I hope to continue using the facility to continue down that path long into the future.”

More information on MnROAD



Agency highlights 'Seasons of Safety' at Minnesota State Fair

A very clean snowplow blade mounted on an orange metal stand.

This plow wing blade will be full of signatures from Minnesota State Fair attendees by the time the event wraps up on Sept. 2. Photo by Libby Schultz

By Anne Meyer

It’s almost time for the “Great Minnesota Get-Together.”

MnDOT will host a booth in the Education Building at the Minnesota State Fair from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2. This year’s theme is “Seasons of Safety,” featuring driving tips for both the winter and summer seasons. Visitors may also sign a 9-foot snowplow wing blade with their name and hometown. The blade will be put to use next winter, with updates posted to social media as the season progresses.

A MnDOT snowplow and FIRST vehicle will participate in the state fair parades on Tuesday, Aug. 27, and Thursday, Aug. 29. The snowplow will have handprints of employees on the front plow blade.

The Office of Transit and Active Transportation has a booth inside the Eco Experience building from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the fair. The booth features information on Greater Minnesota transit. Maps with the different transit systems around the state will be available, and visitors can answer questions about Minnesota transit. Tokens for one free bus ride on a Greater Minnesota transit system (not applicable for Metro Transit) will be available. The booth will also team up with Lyft and Nice Rides, which will offer additional information on alternative forms of transportation.

The state fair will mark its 10th Annual STEM Day (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, at Dan Patch Park by the grandstand. The event hosts more than 30 exhibitors with hands-on activities and interactive demonstrations. MnDOT’s STEM Day booth highlights roadway safety and STEM careers at MnDOT. It will feature Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths’ seat belt convincer, which allows riders to experience the impact of hitting a vehicle at 5-7 mph. Visitors will also have the opportunity to have their picture taken and superimposed on a MnDOT construction project photo.



Cass Lake Hwy 371 project to make road, utility, accessibility improvements

By Leslie Seitz, District 2 public affairs

MnDOT began work in June on a $2.4 million project that will reconstruct Hwy 371 in Cass Lake between US 2 and the railroad crossing, and resurface Hwy 2 near the intersection with Hwy 371.

“This project addresses several needs,” said Luke Johanneck, project engineer. “The pavement was in poor condition and the storm sewer needed to be upgraded. Also, there weren’t adequate pedestrian facilities. The city of Cass Lake has a lot of foot and bicycle traffic, so it was necessary to incorporate those needs into the design. The roadway is being narrowed, which allows for a multi-use trail on the east side of Hwy 371 and a sidewalk on the west side.”

Crews expected to complete the storm sewer Aug. 20, weather permitting. They are also working on grading and graveling. The construction of curb and gutter is scheduled for later this week. Motorists traveling on Hwy 2 can expect lane closures while crews place traffic detector loops near the project.

The original completion time for the project was scheduled for October, but Johanneck said it could be finished as early as the third week in September.

More information

Project elements

  • Grading and resurfacing
  • Storm sewer and city utilities upgrade
  • Construction of a multi-use trail
  • Pedestrian accessibility improvements, including sidewalks, curb and gutter
  • Ambient highway lighting
  • Traffic signal replacement



Sixty-six employees complete Leadership Development Program in July

A decorative cluster of words featuring the words confident, value, vision, communication, leadership, diverse, role, trust, positive, courage, peer and changes

By Carol Hennekens, Office of Human Resources

In July, 66 MnDOT employees joined the ranks of the more than 1,300 staff members who have participated in the organization’s Leadership Development Program since 2012.

LDP is a statewide MnDOT program offered to all employees. The program is individually customized and flexible to meet each participant's development goals. It can be structured or informal, rigorous, ongoing or flexible all at the same time.

Here are a few comments from the most recent participants:

What new skills have you demonstrated?
“Time management and team building are the big ones,” said Nicholas Erickson, a transportation operations supervisor in District 4.

What learning have you applied in your role at MnDOT?
“I have actively applied my knowledge to better manage, make more critical decisions and function with less guidance,” said Ethan Peterson, a pavement marking and traffic control devices engineer with Traffic Engineering. “I have gained further knowledge of the financial structure of MnDOT and I have started to apply it in projects as they come.”

How has what you learned impacted your team?
“It has helped me become more confident when speaking to our work crew and explaining our tasks for the day ahead,” said Todd Rathbun, a transportation generalist with Metro District.

“My approachability is 100 percent better,” said Ronnell Shaw, a storage tank specialist with Environmental Stewardship.

“My team has demonstrated more accountability in our work towards each other and we have been more strategic in application of tasks,” said Rylan Juran, an aviation planner with Aeronautics.

How do your new skills or what you have learned connect to MnDOT’s vision?
“Working to maximize my own potential helps me to be the best steward of the state as I can,” said Elizabeth Pohl, a market research assistant with Public Engagement and Constituent Services.

“The portion of our vision, ‘Minnesota's multimodal transportation system maximizes the health of people,’ has become much clearer to me,” said Andrew Tschida, a research analyst with Transportation System Management. “I have a greater understanding of how the work I do on a day-to-day basis affects the well-being of the public.”

“This program has presented an opportunity to me to enhance skills, learn new ones, draw out latent talents and perhaps even reinforce them,” said Joy Sunram, an office and administration specialist in District 4. “It has allowed me to grow and increase my confidence in areas that I struggled with at times. This has made me a more confident employee, ready to take on challenges, grasp opportunities, and provide a strengthened level of service to our stakeholders.”

MnDOT’s Leadership Development Program is open to all employees. The next enrollment period opens in December 2019, with the next group starting in March 2020.   

More information about the Leadership Development Program



Going, going, gone: Oakdale sign shop to be replaced

Two pictures - the one on the left shows an excavator beginning the process of tearing the old sign shop building down, and the one on the right shows the empty site after the demolition was complete

The state sign shop in Oakdale is no more. The old building was removed recently to make way for a new and improved facility. The exterior of the new structure should be completed in the coming months, with interior and finishing work happening through the winter. If all goes well, the new sign shop should be finished around Memorial Day. During construction, staff will do all production operations in the adjacent inventory center. Photos by Rich Kemp


Staffing updates: Elwood is new AC for State Aid, Statewide Radio Communications Division

By Joseph Palmersheim

Kristine Elwood

Kristine Elwood. Photo by Rich Kemp

Kristine Elwood was recently chosen as the new assistant commissioner for the State Aid and Statewide Radio Communications Division.

Elwood has served public agencies as a civil engineer for more than 23 years. She has been at MnDOT since April 2018, serving Minnesota’s local agencies as the deputy State Aid engineer/State Aid office director. Prior to that, she served Dakota County for more than 17 years in a variety of leadership positions, and spent four years with the city of Minneapolis as an engineer.

Elwood earned a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree from the University of Minnesota.




Districts use county fairs, summer events to engage with communities

MnDOT staff have spent time at county fairs and events around the state this summer to engage with members of the public. Here are some of the places they've been:

A man in a blue MnDOT shirt listens as a fairgoer points to something on a roundabout map.

Mark Klema, District 8 senior engineer, program management, engages with visitors the week of Aug. 8 at Farmfest in Morgan. Photo by Sandra Schlagel

Cindy Aselson looks on as a man pushes a stroller past the MnDOT booth at the crow wing county fair

Cindy Asleson, District 3 human resources, spoke with visitors July 31 at the MnDOT Booth at the Crow Wing County Fair. Photo by Jenny Seelen

Nancy Graham at the Beltrami County Fair.

Nancy Graham, senior engineer, staffs the MnDOT booth at the Beltrami County Fair (Aug. 12-16). Photo by Leslie Seitz




On the Job: Tim Tumberg's work as an archaeologist takes him all over the state

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Tim Tumberg is one of five MnDOT archaeologists in the Office of Environmental Stewardship. Tumberg’s work takes him statewide. He goes wherever there are potential impacts to cultural resources due to road and bridge construction, including city and county projects. The archaeological project assignments for Tumberg and the other archaeologists can extend from one day to several months. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Tell us about your work: Our office receives Early Notification Memos that indicate a project is beginning that may impact state cultural resources. We will review the site using mapping tools like the predictive MnModel to identify if the project is likely to require extensive excavation. What are some of the challenges you face in your work? There is increased sensitivity to excavations, especially when they reveal the potential for human remains. These situations can result in painfully sensitive conversations with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and local tribal officers. However, there is an increased level of trust and understanding that has emerged from these difficult collaborations between the 12 tribes of Minnesota and the agency. What do you like about your job? Each project demands an individualized approach, so the requisite methodology is different and I never get bored. I also feel I can make a difference as we negotiate sensitive discussions, improve interpersonal communications and increase the trust level between the agency and the tribal community.

Do you or a co-worker have an interesting job to share with readers? Send us your ideas, and we’ll contact you for more information. 

Recent employee profiles: 


Smith Avenue High Bridge wins an America’s Transportation Award

By Margaret Anderson Kelliher

From left are Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director; Carlos Braceras, AASHTO president; Sue Mulvihill, deputy commissioner/chief engineer); Margaret Anderson Kelliher, commissioner; Kevin Hagness (CM/GC program manager; Nancy Daubenberger, assistant commissioner, Engineering Services; and Craig Gustafson, chief counsel. Photo by Jake Loesch

Last week, I joined our MnDOT delegation at the 2019 Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials Annual Meeting in Indianapolis – and am pleased to announce that congratulations are in order because the Smith Avenue High Bridge project won the America’s Transportation Award for Operations Excellence! Special thanks to Greg Asche and his construction team for the work on this project.

For 12 years, the America’s Transportation Awards have recognized state DOT projects for making communities safer, less congested, and better connected. The America’s Transportation Awards are sponsored by AASHTO, AAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As a regional winner, the Smith Avenue High Bridge and MnDOT will be considered for inclusion in the competition’s “Top 12” awards, which will be announced Oct. 8 at the AASHTO Annual Meeting in St. Louis.

This award is a testament to the hard work of our team and to MnDOT’s commitment to public engagement, community partnership and intentional communications. The project was praised by local elected officials, state agency partners and residents of the neighborhoods on both sides of the bridge, and I am so proud of our team for earning this award. To learn more about the America’s Transportation Awards, visit

In addition to winning this exciting award, I want to recognize and thank all of our MnDOT employees who made several presentations and hosted technical workshops at the MAASTO meeting, including:

  • Long-range Vision and Effects of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles on State DOTs (Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer Sue Mulvihill)
  • Using Performance Measures to Drive Sustainable Transportation Decisions (Chief Sustainability Officer Tim Sexton)
  • Rolling Out a Platooning Program (Chief Counsel Craig Gustafson)
  • Targeting Freight Mobility Needs Through Regional Plans (Statewide Freight Planner Andrew Andrusko)
  • Driving Your Own Potential – MnDOT’s Leadership Development Program (Workforce Development Supervisor Carol Hennekens)
  • Current Approaches to Innovative Revenue Generation at State DOTs (Federal Relations Manager Serge Phillips)
  • Communicating Performance Management More Effectively (Senior Planner Peter Olson)
  • Asset Management Planning: Beyond Pavements and Bridges (Asset Management Planning Director Shannon Foss)
  • MnDOT and AECOM High Bridge Re-decking Project Using CM/GC Project Delivery (Assistant Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger)
  • CM/GC Delivery for Mega Projects (CM/GC Program Manager Kevin Hagness)

    This video shows the Hwy 149 Smith Ave. High Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The bridge project won the America’s Transportation Award for Operations Excellence. Video produced by Kristi Loobeek


SELECT ALL or Click checkboxes above to select articles you wish to print.
Use your browser's Reset Button to deselect all.