Feb. 13, 2019
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Maintenance crews battle historic cold, snow

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Crews from District 7 working on Hwy 30 east of Darfur to remove a large drift. Photo by Mark Larson

MnDOT maintenance crews were put to the test these past few weeks as frigid temperatures, blizzard conditions and measurable snow blanketed the state.  Even as the bitterly cold temperatures persisted, including a real temperature of minus 57 degrees below zero in northern Minnesota, it didn’t break a Feb. 2, 1996 record of 60 degrees below in Tower.

Snowplows were pulled off the roads in 11 southeastern counties in District 6 because of the extreme cold.

“It was done as a precautionary measure,” said Mike Dougherty, District 6 director of public engagement and communications. “We had a couple of plows freeze up, so there was concern that it might occur with others as the evening progressed; we resumed plowing at approximately 4 a.m. to get things in shape for morning commuters.”

Photo of team snowplowing.

Snowplow operators from the Cedar truck station worked as a team to plow I-494 in Bloomington. Photo by Ted Krinke

Dougherty said that the agency had done this only once in the last five years and that was due to blowing snow, not the extreme cold.

Plows were also pulled off the road in District 4. Emma Olson, public affairs coordinator, said plows were pulled from two of the sub-areas in the southern portion of the district during the Feb. 7 snow event.

“Plows were pulled for about 10 hours because of zero visibility due to blowing snow and because the snow was falling at such a rate that plows couldn’t keep the roads open,” she said.

Photo of snowpow on its side.

A snowplow driven by Jon Amos in District 6 was hit from behind by a semi on Hwy 52. The snowplow rolled over on its side, but Amos was not injured. Photo courtesy of the State Patrol

Safety of the snow plow operators was also a concern during the snow and ice events. More than 50 crashes involving vehicles and state snowplows have occurred throughout Minnesota. Jon Amos, District 6 snowplow operator, was hit by a semi on Hwy 52. Amos was not injured in the crash, but his snowplow rolled on its side.

"The back of the truck went in a circle right between the two lanes. I was trying to re-steer and the next thing I knew I'm on my side,” said Amos.

“The main causes of these crashes are motorists driving too fast for conditions, driving too close to the plow and driver inattention,” said Todd Stevens, acting state maintenance engineer. “Our snowplow drivers are well-trained to operate their plows, which often travel much slower than the posted speeds because it is most effective for clearing roads.”

District 1, which usually records the most snowfall in a winter, has had “a very wintery winter,” according to Chris Cheney, maintenance operations supervisor.

Photo of snow blower on I694..

Crews worked through the night to clear snow off the roadways Feb. 8 around the Twin Cities Metro area. This crew was blowing snow off the I-694 bridge over I-35E. Photo by Gust Scharffbillig

“We experienced some of the coldest temperatures in more than a decade on Jan. 30, when several areas had temperature of minus 50 degrees and lower,” said Cheney.

District 7 has a history of ground blizzards icing up roads and causing zero visibility conditions during snow events.

“These cold snaps provide us chances to test some new materials/methods in extreme situations and we are initially very pleased with the performance,” said Jed Falgren, District 7 assistant district engineer. “In time, we expect that these results will lead to adjustments in our practices that can improve our cold weather response and also lower the total amount of chlorides we need to apply for a given event at any temperature.”

“Timing is a major factor in snow events and unfortunately many of the recent storms hit both daily commutes,” said Jay Emerson, MnDOT’s clear roads supervisor. “The agency anticipates cold weather and snow, especially in February and March and the mostly clear roadways demonstrate how well prepared MnDOT was for the latest round of wintry conditions.”

Knowledge Book captures hard to replace technical expertise

By Sue Roe

Photo of Mike Leegard.

Mike Leegard, contract administration engineer in the office of Construction and Innovative Contracting, brought the idea of the Knowledge Book to MnDOT. Photo by Sue Roe

When Todd Niemann and Gordy Bruhn retire from MnDOT in a few years, the knowledge and technical expertise they acquired during their careers won’t leave the agency when they do. Instead, it will be captured in a knowledge-retention project known as the Knowledge Book.

“The Knowledge Book is for those deep technical experts with unique knowledge that would be hard to replace,” said Mike Leegard, contract administration engineer in the office of Construction and Innovative Contracting. “MnDOT has always worried about its experts walking out the door, so this idea is to talk them within their last two to five years of employment.”

Leegard is leading the project, which started four years ago, and so far, Niemann, Bruhn and Dave Linell, who is now retired, have either completed or are nearing completion on their Knowledge Book.

The project uses the Method for Analyzing and Structuring Knowledge, or MASK method, first developed in France for the French Atomic Energy Commission. MnDOT hired French expert Jean-Francois Tendron to use this methodology to conduct in-depth interviews and to develop interactive PowerPoint-based Knowledge books.

Niemann is a structural materials engineer who has worked in the bridge office for 27 years. Most of MnDOT’s engineering needs are from the civil engineering field, but Niemann is the agency’s only metallurgical engineer with steel bridge fabrication, construction and maintenance expertise.

Photo of Gordy Bruhn.

Gordy Bruhn is an engineering specialist in the field of concrete pavement rehabilitation and repair. Photo by Charles Ombati

Bruhn is an engineering specialist and expert in the field of concrete pavement rehabilitation and repair. He started at MnDOT in 1986 and worked as a maintenance laborer, technician in pre-stress concrete and construction inspector.

Dave Linell retired as a mix design specialist in the bituminous office in 2017. He worked for MnDOT for more than 40 years as an expert in the chemical, asphalt, aggregate, geotechnical and concrete laboratories.

Tendron interviewed all three men either in face-to-face or Skype interviews for many hours. Tendron is skilled at asking probing questions in a structured way that results in identifying critical knowledge.

Niemann had 20 interviews and Bruhn had at least eight interviews. Each interview was three to four hours.

“It’s a different process to talk about myself and figure out what parts of what you know are the most useful,” Niemann said. “I’ve had a fortunate career where I’ve become a specialist for the department in this technical area. I wanted the book to be helpful to the agency as I transition into retirement.”

The finished product is an interactive PowerPoint with drawings, maps, photos, video and audio. The power points will be recreated in an e-learning format for easy mobile and iPad viewing. The reformatted Knowledge Books will be available on the knowledge retention project page.

“Gordy’s book is about how he analyzes a concrete rehabilitation project. Dave’s book is about how to identify aggregates and bituminous mix design. Todd’s book is very specific to steel construction. The commonality with them all is the capture of their intellectual knowledge,” said Leegard. “They’re jewels of knowledge.”

He said the books are never really finished because others, who are tapped as the caretakers or successors of the books, will take ownership and continue to add to the knowledge.

“To keep the books relevant, the legacy of information gets passed on,” Leegard said.

John Garrity, bituminous engineer, who helped Linell with his book and is now its caretaker, said the value of the book lies in passing along Linell’s technical knowledge.

“He worked in every lab here in the Office of Materials and Road Research. His expertise and understanding of aggregates and his knowledge of the functionality of the various labs here made him invaluable in his position as a mix design specialist, Garrity said. “You don’t find people with that broad-based knowledge anymore.”

Bruhn said when his Knowledge Book is done it will provide a new person coming in with 50 to 60 percent of the knowledge to make good decisions on concrete rehabilitation and repair.

“On-the-job training will get them the rest of the way,” he said. “To be an effective concrete person you need to know the actual construction steps taken with that pavement 20 years before.”

The books are the first three in the U.S. in the public sector. Kraft Foods has also adopted the method.

MnDOT worked with South Central College to do the international contracting and to develop more MASK consultants in the U.S.

Leegard said there are other ways to do knowledge transfer within an organization, but the Knowledge Book is an easy-to-follow and intuitive method.

“If it’s good enough for people in nuclear power plants, it will work here at MnDOT,” he said.

About 31 percent of MnDOT’s workforce is or will be retirement eligible within the next five years, so Leegard said doing more Knowledge Books should be a priority so MnDOT’s technical expertise continues to be preserved.

The Knowledge Retention Pilot Project started as a research project. For more information contact Leegard, who was the technical liaison.


District 7 employees compete, Echo Food Shelf wins

Photo of District 7 employees.

The Mankato Hiwayan Club hosted a potluck and food drive Jan. 23. Work areas competed to see who could get the most points for a pizza lunch. It came down to a serious diaper competition (they were worth the most points). The team that brought the most to the competition was Traffic, Hydraulics and Project Management. Photo by Kristin Underwood

MnDOT uses salt brine to pre-treat the roadway, help break up compaction

In this video, Lloyd Law explains how MnDOT uses salt brine and how it is made. Video produced by Rich Kemp

District 1 receives environmental leadership award

Photo of Perry Collins and Chris Cheney.

Perry Collins, D1 assistant district operations engineer, and Chris Cheney, D1 maintenance superintendent, received an environmental leadership award at the 2019 Road Salt Symposium Feb. 7 for implementing two potassium acetate routes in the Duluth area last winter. Use of potassium acetate resulted in a 70 percent reduction in salt use compared to similar lanes without the acetate treatment. Four other experimental routes are being studied this winter to see how much acetate is used and what the cost is. Depending on the results, use of potassium acetate may expand statewide to reduce the use of chlorides. Photo courtesy of Freshwater Society


Meet Linda Kral, snowplow operator in District 6

This is one of a series of snowplow operator profiles that are found on the MnDOT Facebook page. Linda Kral works in District 6 and plows Hwy 30 near Albert Lea. Produced by Kristi Loobeek and Sue Roe

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