Dec. 4, 2019
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Digging out in District 1

This photo shows a large snowblower blowing snow on the side of I-35. The snow to the right of the blower is close to four feet tall.

This photo shows a large pine tree, covered in snow, as it leans nearly sideways over a roadway, weight down by ice and snowCrews in Duluth have been on 12-hour rotating split shifts (midnight to noon, and noon to midnight) since last week's snowstorm. Above, crews plow out a section of Interstate 35 near Exit 255A on the south end of Duluth.

Chris Cheney, District 1 maintenance superintendent, said the storm dropped 21.7 inches of snow at the Duluth airport, the Lester Park neighborhood reported 23.6 inches and several areas reported two feet. He also said much of the cleanup may be finished by week's end.

At right, this tree by the tunnels on the east end of I-35 was one of several that came down with the heavy snow and high winds. Photos by Mike Hedlund




New signs give highway drivers more reasons to stop at rest areas

By Micaela Resh, Office of Research & Innovation

This photo shows a highway sign which has the words Rest Area on the top line, listing ameneties family restroom, maps and playground written underneath that.

According to recent survey results, new highway signs promoting rest area amenities are influencing motorists’ decisions to use them.

Among the 947 respondents using an electronic customer feedback system, 33 percent said they had seen the signs and 29 percent were not sure if they had. Of these two groups, 27 percent indicated the signs influenced their decision to stop and 61 percent described the signs as helpful.

These visitors had the opportunity to take a quick survey via QR code displayed on door decals, stand signs and flyers at the rest areas.

“No other states have installed advance rest area signage that list amenities available at upcoming rest areas,” said Rob Williams, MnDOT’s Safety Rest Area program manager. “We believe this is a cost-effective way to entice people off the road for breaks.”

MnDOT began a two-year pilot project in 2015 to implement findings from its 2009 Rest Area Amenities Study, which suggested that more detailed signage about rest area amenities could encourage motorists to pull off and take a break – which could save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving-related crashes resulted in 795 deaths in 2017. Williams applied for research implementation funds to install 36 signs advertising the amenities ahead of 21 rest areas along Interstate 35 and I-94, as well as at the Brainerd Lakes Area Welcome Center.

Safety rest areas are one tool to keep drivers safe by giving them a place to stop, rest and refresh. MnDOT operates 51 Class I rest areas throughout the state, but not all rest areas offer the same amenities. Depending on the traveler, it may be a family restroom, fenced dog park, or children’s play area that best serves their needs.

MnDOT’s Rest Area Program is continuously working to improve rest areas to better serve travelers and reduce driver fatigue accidents.

“Our rest areas provide an opportunity to directly interface with Minnesotans and visitors traveling through our state, and we want to provide them with the best possible experience,” Williams said.

Ongoing enhancements to our rest areas include improving safety, accessibility and sustainability by:

  • Increasing visibility in rest area lobbies and installing video recording systems to improve visitor safety
  • Improving accessibility and introducing family restrooms
  • Increasing sustainability by use of native vegetation, installing electric vehicle charging stations, using materials with lower life-cycle costs and, in some cases, developing green roofs

The safety rest area program will seek funds to install additional advance signage as rest areas are remodeled. To learn more about the safety rest area signage project, visit the Office of Research & Innovation.



Ceremonial first traffic, ribbon-cutting mark opening of Red Wing Bridge

This picture shows a line of men carrying state and U.S. flags in a line while walking across the newly completed bridge. Several vintage military vehicles are behind the men, also crossing

Color guards from the Red Wing American Legion Post 54 and Bay City, Wis., American Legion Post 357 lead an 11-vehicle procession of veterans and emergency responders from Minnesota and Wisconsin over the new Red Wing Bridge into Red Wing Nov. 21 to mark the ceremonial first traffic on the new bridge. About 100 people attended the ribbon-cutting event in cold, blustery weather. General traffic opened on the bridge the same day. The community is planning a larger celebration for the completion of the project in August 2020. Photo by Rich Kemp



Staffing updates

By Joseph Palmersheim

Photo of Praveena Pidaparthi

Praveena Pidaparthi. Photo by Rich Kemp

Praveena Pidaparthi is the new assistant office director of the Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations’ Freight, Railroads and Waterways section. She has worked with MnDOT for 10 years and recently completed mobility assignments as assistant director with Office of Aeronautics, and as policy and planning director with the CAV-X Office.

Prior to her mobility positions, Pidaparthi served as planning director in the Passenger Rail Office for nine years, where she was involved in the development of the Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Passenger and Freight Rail Plan, and worked as project manager for the Twin Cities to Chicago intercity passenger rail studies.

Pidapathi is an American Institute of Certified Planners certified planner. She has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, and has a graduate certificate in transportation studies from the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.


Photo of Tim Lundberg

Tom Lundberg. Submitted photo

Tom Lundberg became the new District 4 assistant district engineer in Program Development on Oct. 16. He has served in this role for the last 15 months on a mobility assignment and will be overseeing project management, design, planning surveys and right of way.

Lundberg graduated from North Dakota State University with a bachelor of science in civil engineering. Upon graduation, he worked three years with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Lundberg moved to Minnesota and started his career with MnDOT, now spanning 23 years. He has held several positions in Detroit Lakes, including hydraulics engineer, pre-design engineer, design engineer and lead project manager.


Jerilyn Swenson is the new assistant district engineer in District 4 Program Delivery. She will be overseeing the sections of Materials, Traffic and Construction resident offices. Her first day in the new role was Nov. 7.

Swenson has more than 15 years of experience managing transportation projects in Minnesota. Most recently, she was the county engineer for Norman County and interim county engineer for Red Lake County. Prior to that, she worked for MnDOT District 3, North Dakota State University, Short Elliot Hendrickson (SEH), Stantec Consulting and Alliant Engineering.

Swenson has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering, both from North Dakota State University.



New library materials available

New library materials are now available. In addition to the list of newly cataloged materials by subject, this issue highlights two periodicals available to MnDOT employees: Finance & Commerce and Urban Land.

New Library Materials is a compilation of new titles and other resources added to the library collection during the previous month. Email MnDOT Library to be added to the distribution list, or send requests via the Ask a Librarian webpage.



Asset management strategic implementation planning underway

By Joseph Palmersheim

Many MnDOT staff may be aware of recent advancements in asset management in the agency. Writing an asset management plan (known as “TAMP”) and implementing an asset management system (known as “TAMS”) are among the major milestones recently passed.

In order to be deliberate about pursuing future initiatives and opportunities, MnDOT will undertake a formal strategic implementation planning process and is seeking employee input.

“As we look to the future, we have an opportunity to set some long-term goals and vision for MnDOT’s asset management maturity,” said Dave Solsrud, asset management program manager. “We would like to be making process improvement decisions more strategically, asking questions like, ‘Which additional assets should be inventoried?’ or, ‘How should we use asset information to improve investment decision-making?’”

The effort will be led by the consulting firm Applied Pavement Technologies, and use a collaborative process that includes MnDOT senior leaders, district and expert office leaders, and functional experts such as district materials, traffic, planning and maintenance staff. MnDOT’s Asset Management Steering Committee will oversee the effort. 

A project management team consisting of representatives of important stakeholder groups has been established, which will guide the execution of the effort. A broad stakeholder survey is planned for January 2020, followed by a series of targeted workshops.

The decisions reached will be documented in an implementation plan, which is expected to be completed in approximately 12 months.

“The goal of the effort is to collaboratively develop an asset management vision and set of directions that employees can understand and commit to,” Solsrud said. “Participation by individuals will be key. If you are asked to participate, your engagement in defining our asset management future is crucial.”



Employee Resource Groups gather for summit

By Mary McFarland Brooks

This photo shows people gathered in a large circle around an auditorium with tables

Participants at the ERG Summit. Photo by Rich Kemp

MnDOT’s Employee Resource Groups convened in St. Paul Nov. 6 for a day filled with professional development and skill building.

More than 125 employees attended “We Are Moving Forward – Looking Toward the Future,” the second Employee Resource Group Summit. The summit was an opportunity for MnDOT’s nine ERGsto celebrate successes and learn with, from and about each other.

“The first MnDOT All-ERG Summit was held in 2017, and we were able to develop an ally training from the feedback received,” said Mary Young, ERG organizational development coordinator. “Building resilience throughout all levels of the agency was the focus of the 2019 summit.”   

MnDOT’s Office of Equity and Diversity, which is responsible for integrating best practices into the agency while supporting ERG development and coordination, hosted the event.

“The nine Employee Resource Groups actively attract, integrate, engage, develop and retain our increasingly diverse and talented workforce,” said Seema Desai, Office of Equity and Diversity director. “Similarly, our ERGs help us more effectively connect with an increasingly diverse Minnesota, gathering information and perspectives to address transportation needs in ways that are more broadly supported and sustainable.”

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Sara Severs, chief of staff, talked about meeting with and learning from the various ERGs. Anderson Kelliher stressed the importance of recognizing the distinct and unique perspectives and strengths of all employees as being critical to retaining talent at MnDOT, something echoed by other speakers at the event.

“ERG contributions support critical changes that are needed to help create a more welcoming and respectful workplace,” said Gina Kundan, Office of Equity and Diversity deputy director. “It takes committed employees to press through challenges to transform a work environment that it is conducive to all employees feeling valued.”

Kundan also provided “Communicating Across Cultures,” an interactive presentation using the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory. ERG champions and allies also participated in the day-long interactive agenda.

“I appreciated the Intercultural Conflict Style exercise to understand the various communication styles within our group,” said Nancy Daubenberger, assistant commissioner for Engineering Services. “Also, during the Intentional Social Interaction exercise later in the afternoon, I was able to take away some good suggestions on how senior leadership can be more supportive of our ERGs.”

The agenda also included time for the chairs of respective ERGs to present a short summary of accomplishments and highlights from the past year.



MnDOT, MNIT win three 'Best of the Best' awards

By Joseph Palmersheim

For the second year in row, Minnesota IT Services, the information technology agency for Minnesota’s executive branch, awarded three “Best of the Best” awards to MNIT@DOT staff during a ceremony at the Capitol rotunda Nov. 22.

“MNIT and MnDOT did very well at the MNIT awards due to our exceptional collaboration and partnership,” said Jim Close, MNIT chief business technology officer at MnDOT. “The awards are a reflection of our strong partnership, the efforts of these individuals and the enabling IT service staff.  I’m very proud of our recognition and accomplishments at the state.”

IT Business Analyst Gabriella Tsurutani was named Employee of the Year. Tsurutani, who has worked for the agency full time for 24 years, started as a seasonal worker doing vehicle classification during her summers, and moved to IT in 1999. She now works with business areas on how to leverage technology to make their work easier, more accurate and more efficient. Winning the award was “surreal,” she said.

“Someone from the committee actually called to tell me a couple days before the ceremony, and about an hour after the phone conversation I was thinking, ‘That call didn’t really happen, did it?’” she said. “It seemed surreal. I decided I’d find out for sure on Friday at the ceremony. Then Friday came, and it was real. It is really nice to be recognized. It’s humbling and inspiring, because there are so many talented, dedicated, smart people working for the state.” 

MnDOT’s Transportation Asset Management System was named Project of the Year. It serves as a single source of data for managing inventory, inspections, maintenance and repair of the agency’s roadside infrastructure.  

“When we found out about the award, we were happy, of course, and proud of our project team that includes staff from MnDOT, MNIT, and our vendors, AgileAssets and the Sartell Group,” said Karen Scott, MNIT project manager. “We have people on the team who have been involved with the development of TAMS for four to five years, and we have people who have just come on board in the last year. Everyone on the team works hard to ensure the success of this system.”

The Blue Ribbon Council (established by Governor Walz) won Partner of the Year. Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher is a member.

“We are pleased to accept this award on behalf of all of the stakeholders involved in the Blue Ribbon Council,” Anderson Kelliher said. “Having the public and private sectors working together in partnership is crucial to address issues relating to cybersecurity, data management, privacy and modernization projects.”

Ed Krum and Robert Jensen, partnering with MnDOT, were employee of the year finalists. There were 30 nominations. MnDOT Business Expense Application was also one of the five project finalists.



District 1's Adrienne Hedlund supports training, workforce development

By Rich Kemp

Adrienne Hedlund, training and development specialist, works with more than 400 employees in District 1. We recently caught up with her to learn more. The image below is linked to a larger version.

Adrienne Hedlund, workforce development for District 1, says I am lucky to have a very random job. I support all 400 District 1 employees and get to interact with them all. I get to meet everyone and help to ensure they are properly trained and have growth development opportunities available. I am also lucky because I get to participate in a lot of other activities in our district like the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, provide training opportunities for personal development and help with local events, like the District 1 Open House/SWAT event. In the training environment, we need to stay adaptable because training needs change all the time. It is our job to figure out how to be supportive and provide the needed training or development that is timely and cost.

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: 



Sue Mulvihill: Until we meet again...

By Sue Mulvihill, deputy commisioner and chief engineer

Photo of Sue Mulvihill

Sue Mulvihill. Photo by Rich Kemp

I was honored to be asked to write a “goodbye column” for Newsline, and I thank the staff for thinking of such a thing. A few thoughts come to mind that I might best share in a list of bullets (those of you who know me know that I speak best from a list of bulleted topics), so here goes:

  • Always try to have some fun during your day – smile
  • Be respectful and honest
  • Never be afraid to take on a challenge when offered
  • “Temporary positions” are good – I’m still temporary today
  • There are great people here at MnDOT
  • Your co-workers will have your back
  • Giving authority and support to people brings it back to you 100-fold
  • Use common sense
  • Follow the Platinum Rule
  • Listen – put your phone down
  • It’s OK to say “I don’t know,” and then go find out the answer
  • Use humor appropriately
  • Embrace differences and welcome new people

MnDOT has been a fantastic place to work for the past 36 years. Of course, there have been challenging days, but I never felt that I was alone in managing those challenges. I have built lasting friendships here, and I hope to maintain and build on those long into the future.

I remember Leroy pens (hand-inking, for younger staff), electric erasers and smoking at your desk (I didn’t do this). The agency has evolved and changed with the years, but the dedication of its staff remains strong and devoted to providing the best transportation system that we can for the customers we serve.

I will always remember the feeling on Aug. 1, 2007, when the Interstate 35W Bridge collapsed and the next several months. We struggled to deal with the trauma, and to rebuild the infrastructure and our shattered confidence. We persevered and grew stronger together.

Thank you for the support and time each of you have given to the agency. In my opinion, Minnesotans are fortunate to have MnDOT. I am sad to leave all of the wonderful people here, and I am fortunate to be able to retire knowing that the agency will continue to move in a positive direction going forward. I hope that I am fortunate enough to pursue some house renovations, some personal improvement (golf, languages, yoga, music) and, of course, additional travel!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done to support me as your colleague and your deputy commissioner. Go forward and do great things!

Editor's note: Sue Mulvihill's last day is Dec. 10.


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