Aug. 7, 2019
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New Dakota-English sign welcomes travelers to 'where they mark the trees red'

By Sandra Schlagel, District 8 Public Affairs

A groiup of people in safety vests are standing in front of a sign with Dakota and English words on it. The English words on the sign say welcome to where they paint the trees red.

This new Dakota-English language sign welcomes travelers to the Lower Sioux Indian Community in District 8. Pictured after a July 29 sign unveiling are, from left, Keith Berndt, Redwood County engineer; Jon Huseby, MnDOT District 8 engineer; Kevin O’Keefe, Lower Sioux Indian Community assistant secretary/treasurer; Grace Goldtooth, Lower Sioux Indian Community vice president; Jane Steffen, Lower Sioux Indian Community secretary; Robert Larsen, Lower Sioux Indian Community president; Earl Pendleton, Lower Sioux Indian Community treasurer; Chris Chee, Lower Sioux Indian Community Roads Department; and Edward Fairbanks, MnDOT deputy tribal liaison. Photo by Sandra Schlagel

In its most basic form, this road sign is simply a flat, rectangular piece of metal that sits six feet off the ground, reaches 10 feet into the sky, measures 12 feet across and weighs about 200 pounds.

One string of reflective white characters against the green background may be recognizable, but the other characters may be unfamiliar. And whether or not visitors recognize the languages written on this giant sheet of metal, the words convey more than an ordinary traffic sign. Each language, one Dakota, the other American English, is there to welcome those who travel to the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

The welcome sign is the first Dakota-English language road sign in Minnesota. Following a private ground blessing, it was unveiled to the community and guests Monday, July 29, near Morton, on Redwood County Road 24. It designates the west boundary of the Lower Sioux Indian Community. Identical signs will be installed at the north, east and south reservation boundaries. The signs include the Dakota language homeland name “where they mark the trees red.”

“It’s something for our members to be proud of, our children, our elders, all of us,” said Robert Larsen, Lower Sioux Indian Community president. “Back in 2012, the leadership at the time saw how devastated our language was for us, so they passed a resolution that said our Dakota language is in peril and we need to do whatever we can to bring it back.”

In addition to starting language programs, Lower Sioux began working with Indian Affairs and MnDOT to develop road signs in the Dakota language. The signs symbolize language preservation, a sense of community and homeland, as well as awareness and partnership. It is a sign of respect, said Adrien Carretero, Tribal Relations.

Although the sign is not located on state highways or owned by the state, MnDOT is in the business of making road signs and is also committed to developing government-to-government relationships through partnerships with sovereign nations. The Lower Sioux Indian Community also partnered with Redwood County to bring the sign from an idea to a reality.

“When we come home here, we’re going to see that sign and have some self-pride,” Larsen said after the unveiling. “I’m hoping that everyone’s going to take a piece of that and just smile when they see it, and build more relationships with everyone that comes here. Thank you for being here, this is important to us.”

The White Earth Reservation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation worked together in 2016 to place Ojibwe and English language signs in several locations in District 4.

For information about the MnDOT Dakota and Ojibwe Language Signing Program, visit



CAV making moves with direction from new strategic plan

Picture of a small van parked outside the state capitol building

Legislators and MnDOT employees took rides on a CAV shuttle bus outside the Capitol in March 2019. Photo by Sue Roe

By Anne Meyer

MnDOT's Connected and Automated Vehicle office (known as “CAV-X”) is putting its new strategic plan into motion this fall.

The plan outlines recommendations to keep MnDOT at the forefront of connected and automated vehicle technology. Staff can expect to see CAV-X demonstrations across the state, work zone pilot projects, and internal engagement through employee listening sessions and lunch-and-learn events.

“As this innovation evolves, we know it will significantly impact areas like road design, connectivity and maintenance. That’s why your knowledge and input will be so valuable,” said Sue Mulvihill, deputy commission/chief engineer. “The CAV-X strategic plan will ensure MnDOT makes informed decisions to provide safer roads for the public and our workers.”

Invitations to employee engagement opportunities will be sent via email. Check out to read the CAV-X strategic plan or learn more about the team’s mission.



MnDOT spent $133 million to clear roads during most severe winter this decade

Sever winter landscape, with blowing snow that makes it difficult to travel

This is a view from camera showing conditions along Hwy 14 near Kasson on Feb. 24. Photo by Anne Meyer

By Anne Meyer

From a polar vortex with wind chills of -50 degrees to record snowfall amounts across the state, the 2018-19 winter season put snowplow drivers to the test.

MnDOT's recently released annual “Winter Maintenance at a Glance” report looks at fiscal year costs, snow totals, winter severity index and more from the past winter. According to the report, MnDOT spent almost $133 million statewide in the 2018-19 winter season.

Crews worked more than 198,000 hours of overtime during 31 snow events. District 6 spent the most money, with $34.8 million, and District 8 spent the least, at $9.9 million. Costs for each district are broken down in the report.

This year’s Winter Severity Index (154) is nearly 40 points higher than the one from the last winter season. It's the most severe since MnDOT began tracking the severity level this way nearly a decade ago. The Winter Severity Index compares nine different factors, including snowfall amounts, wind impact and road temperatures. This season’s increase was due in part to colder road and air temperatures, and an increase in the hours of snowfall, blowing snow and freezing rain.

“Teamwork was key to our success,” said Jed Falgren, District 7 assistant district engineer and acting state maintenance engineer. “In addition to snow and ice staff, our mechanics kept equipment on the road, and our communications staff gave regular updates to the public about road closures and changing conditions. Our partners at the Minnesota State Patrol, the South Dakota and Iowa DOTs also worked with us to get messages out to travelers.”

Snowplow drivers put less rock salt on the roads during this past season compared to the 2017-18 winter. According to the report, use of alternative chemicals like potassium acetate, BEET HEET and others may have helped reduce salt usage. Crews found chemicals improved the performance of salt during challenging conditions, which meant less rock salt was needed to clear roads. The report includes an article about alternative chemicals and another on conquering winter’s worst week.



Community Vitality Fellow Marcus Young to serve as artist-in-residence

Marcus young

Marcus Young. Submitted photo

By Joseph Palmersheim

MnDOT recently welcomed its first Community Vitality Fellow.

Marcus Young will serve as MnDOT’s first artist-in-residence, taking a fresh look at the agency’s goals to promote economic vitality, improve safety, support multimodal transportation systems and create healthier communities. He will be based out of the Office of Land Management in the Central Office during his yearlong residency. MnDOT is the second statewide agency to join Smart Growth America’s pilot artist-in-residence program, following the recent launch of Washington State DOT’s artist-in-residence program.

“Marcus Young brings an openness, curiosity and deep listening to his approach working within government agencies,” said Jessica Oh, Highway Sponsorship director, Office of Land Management. “He is interested in how art can create a more equitable world, both representational and lived, and his artistic practice considers those who are not at the table. He will start off his time at MnDOT by rotating through more than a dozen districts and offices to understand MnDOT’s operations and strategic priorities.”

Young served as the city artist for St. Paul for nine years, where he created Everyday Poems for City Sidewalks, a work of art that has embedded more than 1,000 poems created by city residents into city streets. Young has a background in theater, music and dance. He is a recipient of awards from the McKnight, Bush and Jerome Foundations, and earned his MFA from the University of Minnesota.

“We’re working on the idea that artists can be at the table, in the conversation, as a government agency does its work,” he said. “I’m hoping that what I call ‘behavioral art’ has some applications during my time here at MnDOT.”

In his new role, Young will gain a thorough understanding of the inner workings of a state department of transportation. He will also support MnDOT’s efforts to encourage local public-private partnerships that support the aesthetic, environmental, social and cultural values of communities within transportation projects. The projects executed during the residency will be developed in close partnership with Smart Growth’s Transportation for America program, MnDOT, and project partners ArtPlace America and the McKnight Foundation. Young will be tasked with exploring the following:

  • Developing processes and procedures to further evaluate and integrate elements that elevate the unique character of each community within the transportation system
  • Bringing creative problem solving skills and strategic thinking to design challenges, while providing guidance on potential improvements to how MnDOT plans, builds, operates and maintains its infrastructure using community feedback
  • Piloting innovative public engagement strategies to further build customer trust as set forth in the MnDOT Strategic Operating Plan by engaging a wide range of stakeholders, including elected officials, tribal governments, community organizations and transportation partners

Smart Growth America is a national nonprofit that supports a transportation system that safely, affordably and conveniently connects people of all means and all abilities through multiple modes of travel with minimal impact to communities and the environment.



Project profile: Hwy 15 Kimball project wraps up ahead of schedule

By Joseph Palmersheim

Picture of highway section on a sunny day

District 3's Hwy 15 Kimball project wrapped up ahead of schedule on July 26. The project reconstructed 12 miles of Hwy 15 road surface, repaired or replaced pipes and box culverts, and upgraded the pedestrian crosswalks and signal components at the intersection of Hwy 15 and Stearns CR 47/136 in St. Augusta.

“The project finished six days ahead of schedule and resulted in a newly constructed surface that will last for years to come,” said Rob Abfalter, project manager. “I also want to thank the public for their patience during the detour.”

This project used a long-lasting and cost-effective road surface treatment known as “stabilized full depth reclamation.” The asphalt pavement and some of the existing soil base is ground together in-place, and two passes of the reclaimer were used. Once the reclaimed base was done, crews paved over the base with two new layers of asphalt. Photo by Jenny Seelen



Panel ponders future of ABC Ramps

By Karen Scheffing, Metro District

A new brand, improved connections to the North Loop, art additions and potential for retail and food vendors – all could be coming to ABC Ramps in the future.

MnDOT recently turned to an Urban Land Institute Minnesota technical assistance panel to evaluate the management and development of the MnDOT-owned downtown Minneapolis ABC Ramps.

The panel, convened April 15-17, included chair Max Musicant, the Musicant Group; Doug Arseneault, Central Ohio Transit Authority; Bill Dossett, Nice Ride Minnesota; Lynette Dumalag, JLL Minneapolis; Meena Mangalvedhekar, Hennepin Theatre Trust; Chris Palkowitsch, BKV Group; Chris Sherman, Sherman & Associates; and Charlie Zelle, Jefferson Lines and former MnDOT commissioner.

A recent University of Minnesota study indicated that the ABC ramps should be modernized into a mobility hub. The ULI panel helped MnDOT explore ideas specific to creating such a hub.

After reviewing four questions related to the ramps, the panel recommended MnDOT:

  • Build a new brand for the ramps
  • Focus on user experience (with a pedestrian study, improvements to skyways and open spaces, and consideration of services for those experiencing homelessness)
  • Explore design alternatives and cost estimates for the use of specific ABC Ramp areas
  • Determine process and procedures, engaging different professionals to implement and manage redevelopment and branding
  • Develop a five-year plan

The panel also suggested MnDOT embrace and brand the ramps as a mobility hub, reinforce connections to the North Loop, and consider long-term major redevelopment efforts. These efforts could include a large food/retail court facing the light rail stop and workforce housing on the top of Ramp B.

“The ABC Ramp panel represents talented and creative professionals from across the land-use spectrum, gathering to develop novel ideas and implementation strategies to improve a critical corner of our community,” said Max Musicant, TAP chair. “The energy and insight generated by the mixing of transportation, real estate, art and design was a testament to what can be accomplished through collaboration toward a common cause.”

Going forward, MnDOT will pilot pop-up activities, and create improved maps and signage in collaboration with the city of Minneapolis. Staff will also put together an RFP to hire a consultant to help write the five-year plan.

Full panel report



What's new on the web

The Workers’ Compensation iHUB site was recently simplified and streamlined. Changes include step-by step-instructions and a forms page. As a reminder, all forms must be completed within 24 hours after an injury has occured.



Staffing updates: Lake is new ADE in District 6

By Joseph Palmersheim

Kyle Lake

Kyle Lake. Submitted photo

Kyle Lake was recently appointed as the assistant district engineer-East Operations for District 6.

In his new role, Lake will be responsible for overseeing the maintenance, construction and facilities activities on the east side of the district. He has been working in the position for the past eight months on a mobility assignment from his resident construction engineer position in the district. 

Lake has more than 20 years of experience in transportation engineering, including 11 years with MnDOT District 6. Prior to joining District 6, he worked for the Iowa DOT and as an engineering consultant. 




Blooming where they are planted: Seeds program champions talent

Three rows of workers looking at the camera. Behind them is the CHS field sign.

Seeds and Phoenix Day was held June 20 at CHS Field in St. Paul. The theme of the day was Championing Our Future Talent, and recognized Seeds graduates, graduating Phoenix students who are transitioning to Seeds and student workers, new Seeds students and new Phoenix interns. Photo by Rich Kemp

By Joseph Palmersheim

For more than 26 years, MnDOT’s Seeds program has helped student workers bloom where they are planted.

It was recognized, along with the Phoenix Internship Program, during a “Championing Our Future Talent” event on June 20 at CHS field in St. Paul. The event recognized Seeds graduates, graduating Phoenix students who are transitioning to Seeds and student work, new Seeds students and new Phoenix interns. Guest speakers included Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher.Seeds stands for “Students Exploring Expanding Developing.” Started in 1993, the program provides paid college-level student worker positions to highly motivated minority or economically disadvantaged college students, students who are recently separated veterans, students with disabilities or female students in STEM or non-traditional fields of study.

Currently, 36 Seeds students and 24 Phoenix interns are enrolled in the programs. Students can work up to 20 hours during the school year and 40 hours during summer and school breaks.

Many former Seeds participants hold a variety of professional positions in MnDOT today. Jessica Etukudo, the current Seeds director, started with the program as a student in 2008.

“I really enjoyed the team I worked on and the program manager really helped start my career at MnDOT when I graduated,” she said. “I had previously interned in professional settings, but this student worker position was where I really honed my skills and developed professionally. One thing I really liked about my position and the program is that it was meant to be a learning environment. It was OK to make mistakes. I was able to learn a lot, and overall, I had a really great experience.”

Jesse Johnson, a web and communications specialist with Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations, started with Seeds in 2017 when he was in graduate school. He worked in the Office of Finance’s Special Services unit, which was tasked with maintaining all of the office’s iHUB pages. This helped him prepare for his current role, he said.

“I think the most positive impact of the Seeds program is that it brings in talented and driven individuals from diverse backgrounds in a very direct and intentional way,” Johnson said. “For me personally, having the flexibility of working at MnDOT through the Seeds program helped me balance work with the demand of having school work as well.”

Some of those who came through the Seeds program returned to MnDOT to teach others. Lorianna Yang oversees the Civil Engineering Internship Program. She has been with the agency since joining the Seeds program in 2010.

“The Seeds Program helped me prepare for my career by giving me the opportunity to work in a professional field while attending college,” Yang said. “It’s a great opportunity for students to get hands-on job experience. The program also gives students the opportunity to have work-life balance while attending school and has training opportunities, competitive wages and benefits.”

Etukudo said one of her best moments as Seeds manager was when she returned to MnDOT in 2015 to take over the program after earning her master's degree in communication studies and public advocacy. She was heading to a meeting and ran into Jary Lee, a former Seeds student who had since become a civil engineer.

“Jary started with MnDOT in high school through the Phoenix program, went onto the Seeds program for all four years of college and then into the graduate engineer program once he received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering,” Etukudo said. “He was eventually promoted to a senior engineer in Metro District Design. When Jary started at MnDOT in high school, he had a general interest in STEM fields but he had not thought of civil engineering as his career or the state as an employer. It’s great to be a small part of his journey.”

Editor's note: Jessica Etukudo was profiled as a student worker in an On the Job feature in the Jan. 7, 2009, issue of Newsline. That profile can be found here.



Snow Dragons take to Lake Phalen

A red boat with a dragon head on the very front of it, being rowed by two rows of rowers.

The MnDOT Snow Dragons raced in the 2019 Dragon Boat Festival July 13 on Lake Phalen. Sixteen teams from various companies and organizations participated. MnDOT has been participating in the races for close to a decade. The agency’s participation is sponsored by the Asian Employee Resource Group, whose values and missions align with those of the Dragon Festival.

“The team did a great job!” said team captain Sophia Xiong-Yang.

Members of the MnDOT Snow Dragon team include Kory Andersen, Anthony Cenci, Bryan Dodd, Naomi Eckerd, Lisa Eshetu, Kimario Daniel Fawkes, Ryan Hegna, Tim Henkel, Olivia Dorow Hovland, Gina Kundan, Cheng Long Lochungvu, Brenda Rivera, Lorenzo Smith, Waubun Smith, Chang Pao Yang, Fue Yang, Mao Yang, James Xiong, Jennifer Xiong, Sophia Xiong-Yang and Mary Young. Photo by Fong Yang



On the Job: Luis Canelon-Lander's office view is 300 feet in the air

By Joseph Palmersheim

Luis Canelon-Lander is a radio tower technician senior. His job takes him around the state, often more than 300 feet in the air to repair and maintain a statewide network of communication towers MnDOT owns.

I have been with the Office of Statewide Communications for 6 years but I have been in the tower industry for about 16 years. I am a Radio Tower Technician Senior. We perform the functions necessary to install and maintain the equipment on a statewide network of communication towers mostly owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. This includes the repair of tower lighting to meet FAA requirements and support to the 800 MHz public safety Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response System. We have the best office view anyone could ask for. The standard height of our towers is 330 feet (around 30 stories) and some are located in very pristine locations. There are a lot of variables in our day-to-day operations. We get to alternate working with 40-50 talented radio technicians depending on the location of the tower, which keeps the job fresh and interesting. Even though our office is very small, the amount of work, effort and diligence put in by every single individual is astonishing. The ARMER radio system we built and maintain is one of the best in the nation.

Photo by Troy Schmidt

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. 

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