Sept. 4, 2019
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MnDOT engages visitors at Great Minnesota Get-Together

This time-lapse video shows attendees signing a plow blade at the MnDOT booth on opening day Aug. 22. More than five blades were filled with signatures by the time the fair ended. Video by Kristi Loobeek

By Joseph Palmersheim

Thousands of Minnesota State Fair attendees signed snowplow wing blades in the MnDOT booth at the Education Building Aug. 22 to Sept. 2. The 9-foot blades proved so popular that five were completely filled with signatures during the fair. Signees were asked for their name and hometown in Minnesota.

Each of the 580-pound carbon steel alloy blades sat in a specially designed cradle within the booth. The blades will be used on trucks this upcoming winter, with photo updates posted to social media.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher worked several shifts at the booth, greeting visitors and encouraging them to sign the plow blade. The number of people signing the blade was “incredible,” she said.

“What I have loved about this is that there are a lot of conversations happening while people are signing the plow blade, about everything from 'Are we really going to use this blade' to conversations about winter, or asking about various things at MnDOT,” she said. “It's been awesome for engagement with the public.”

At left, Gov. Tim Walz signs the plow blade at the Minnesota State Fair, at right, a close-up photo of the hundreds of signatures, in different colors, left on a different blade.With Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher looking on, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz was one of the thousands of Minnesota State Fair attendees who signed one of five snowplow wing blades at the MnDOT booth Aug. 29. At right, another visitor adds a signature to an almost-full blade Aug. 23. Left photo by Jake Loesch, right photo by Kristi Loobeek



From India to Minnesota: wind tower blades journey over sea, land

Picture of large wind turbine blade being towed by a semi.

These wind tower blades, each measuring 220 feet, were transported to the U.S. via ship from India and Spain, and continued on roadways after being unloaded in Duluth. Photo by Pete Kramer, Lake Superior Warehousing

By Rob Holschbach, Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations

The morning began like any other Monday for motorists traveling on Minnesota highways July 22, with one exception. On this day, motorists received their first glimpse of the longest wind tower blades ever transported on Minnesota highways.

The journey for each blade began in either India or Spain. From there, the blades traveled by sea to a warehousing facility at the port of Duluth. There, 162 wind blades measuring 67 meters in length (approximately 200 feet) will be moved individually to Avon, S.D.

MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations has a dedicated oversize/overweight permits unit that leads planning and coordination efforts for issuing the permits for these blades. This involves working closely with trucking companies to identify potential route plans, and coordinating with internal and external stakeholders. Then, based on the load configurations, planned route, and other aspects of these moves, the unit sets time and travel restrictions and other conditions. All of this is critical to ensure these wind blades move as safely and efficiently as possible.

“Minnesota’s infrastructure wasn’t built with these kinds of large loads in mind,” said Kristine Schadegg, heavy haul project coordinator. “Because these loads have to travel through town to get out of the port, we need to know the loads can make turns, can successfully navigate vertical clearances and narrow roads, and won’t bottom out at known humped intersections. The other big challenge is knowing about upcoming construction projects well in advance.”

Anderson Trucking Service, the Minnesota-based carrier moving these blades, is no stranger to transporting large wind components. The trucking company transports between 5,000 and 8,000 blades each year throughout Minnesota. The equipment used is a special design: a trailer with an independent back end, controlled remotely to allow the truck driver to make 90-degree turns, with a loaded vehicle configuration measuring approximately 250 feet long.

“While these are Minnesota’s largest blades to date, other parts of the country are already seeing increased blade sizes of up to 74 meters, or approximately 220 feet,” said Leah Kuechle, ATS heavy haul permits manager. “Over time, these larger blades will make their way to the Midwest on a more consistent basis.”

Moving 74-meter wind blades across Minnesota may become a reality next year. Such an endeavor requires extensive planning and coordination, and the planning process begins months before a schedule is determined.

“We coordinate with the MnDOT districts through which the loads are traveling,” Shadegg said. “We frequently work with District 1 because of the ever-increasing size of items coming into the port of Duluth. We work continuously with MnDOT district engineers and project managers, the Port Authority, the city, State Patrol, the shipper and the carrier. There are meetings to discuss travel options, like routes and times of travel, when these big projects come up. We begin working on these projects as soon as we first hear about them, sometimes a year in advance.”

To see how a move like this happens, check out this Youtube video on the largest wind turbine movement in Spain.



Majority of Hwy14/15 New Ulm Gateway project completed ahead of schedule

Overhead view of a figure-8-shaped interchange

This is an aerial view of the intersection of Hwy 14/15 interchange roundabout. The interchange was completed ahead of schedule and will improve safety and mobility for area travelers. Photo by Robert Jones, project manager

By Rebecca Arndt, District 7 Public Affairs

The construction of the New Ulm Gateway (Hwy14/15) project has been anything but dull. 

The multi-year, two highway project nearing completion consists of varied construction challenges including:

  • A two-lane bridge over the Minnesota River with a substructure that can be expanded to four lanes
  • A two-lane bridge over Front Street designed for four-lane expansion adjacent to the structure
  • A new interchange (bridge) at the intersection of Hwy 14 and Hwy 15 and Nicollet County Road 21 – what was the infamous Y intersection with serious crash problems
  • A roundabout at the Hwy 14 and Front Street intersection
  • A reconstruction of Hwy 14 (7th Street) between Broadway and Front Street including city water main and sanitary sewer replacement
  • Raising Hwy 14 and Hwy 15 above the 100-year flood elevation
  • A trail on the north side of the Highway from German Street to the interchange
  • Removal of the existing truck station outside of town and construction of a new truck station in Courtland

The project began in the December 2017 with preliminary work and the majority of the work done in 2018-19. Construction was affected by a record-breaking winter, followed by more record-breaking Minnesota River flooding. That’s not to mention the more quirky aspects of the job, including MnDOT’s educational video starring Herman the German, the Chamber’s Karl the Konstruction Gnome to promote shopping downtown, project site visitors including a large group of elementary STEM students, and a local poet publishing poems about the project in the New Ulm Journal.

“This particular project has had many environmental challenges as well as construction-related hurdles to overcome,” said Todd Kjoldstad, project manager. “For the most part, with the exception of the new Minnesota River Bridge, the project staff has been proactive in providing timely solutions. This has allowed us to open the majority of the project to the traveling public three months earlier than originally anticipated.”

Remaining work on the project includes the completion of the Minnesota River crossing. What the crews can be accomplished before the end of the year is weather sensitive, which puts the project on a “to be determined” completion date.

More information, including a construction web cam, is available on the project website.



Study seeks to shed light on capturing renewable solar energy from Minnesota highways

Infographic on solr energy. It states that 1,000 miles of solar panels on Minnesota highways could power all of the state's highway lights, or 43,333 residential homes.

This infographic provides more information on the application of solar power as it relates to MnDOT infrastructure (click on the image for a larger version).

By Micaela Resh, Office of Research and Innovation

Sound barriers and snow fences along highways have the potential to provide clean energy in Minnesota.

Harnessing Solar Energy through Noise Barriers and Structural Snow Fencing, a newly funded MnDOT study, is investigating how to use existing noise barriers and snow fences on Minnesota highways to harvest clean, cost-effective energy.

“Snow fences and noise walls are structural barriers with a singular purpose,” said Dan Gullickson, MnDOT’s Blowing Snow Control Shared Services Program supervisor, who is overseeing the research project. “Snow fences are intended to limit snow from drifting onto our highways and noise walls are intended to reduce noise to a comfortable level for communities living near our highways. Finding a way to integrate solar components while maintaining structural integrity could transform the use of these barriers from single purpose to multi-purpose.”

Solar energy is captured from the sun and inverted into thermal or electrical energy. It is a clean and abundant renewable energy source that generally requires little maintenance after installation. Solar energy has a variety of uses, including providing electricity to power street lamps and homes, heating and cooling spaces, and heating water.

“We’ve seen some applications of solar panels on noise walls, primarily in European countries, but the addition of solar panels to snow fences is an entirely new concept,” Gullickson said.

One estimate shows that a thousand miles of solar panels could power all the street lights along Minnesota highways or 43,333 residential homes (assuming each solar panel is 330W and 1,000 panels could generate up to 330kW per mile).

“We know Minnesota and North Dakota winters bring a lot of snow, which is disruptive to our travelers and farmers,” said Mijia Yang from North Dakota State University, the study's lead researcher. “We hope to create a sustainable solution that aids drivers and farmers while harnessing energy which would be able to offset the cost of construction and installation.”

Gullickson and a diverse team of MnDOT experts – from the field of environmental stewardship to traffic engineering – will guide the research and review findings. The study, planned to be completed by June 2021, will include surveys, lab testing or modeling of possible design options and a cost-benefit analysis.

The research team is developing surveys to better understand public opinion on solar energy (including energy prices and solar panel infrastructure), power companies’ interest in purchasing solar energy generated through the right of way and legal considerations for harvesting solar energy through the rights of way.

“Surveying the public and utility providers may uncover questions that we hadn’t previously anticipated. We hope to address those hurdles throughout the study,” Gullickson said.

Follow along for project updates on MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation website.



Staffing updates: Hietpas is new assistant commissioner for Operations

By Joseph Palmersheim

Jay Hietpas

Jay Hietpas. Photo by Rich Kemp

Jay Hietpas has been appointed as the new assistant commissioner for the Operations Division.

The 20-year MnDOT veteran started and led the Office of Connected and Automated Vehicles, where he worked on statewide policy and testing new technologies. Prior to this, he worked in a variety of positions, including state traffic engineer, innovative contracting director and design-build program manager. As a consultant, Hietpas was a project manager on urban and rural highway projects.

Hietpas has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota.




On the Job: Laurel Janisch connects with stakeholders while walking in parades

By Joseph Palmersheim

Laurel Janisch is not only MnDOT's customer response coordinator, she also has a unique role as the person who wears MnDOT's road cone costume during parades, as she did this year during the Minnesota State Fair. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Laurel says this was my fourth summer wearing the cone costume. A lady who previously worked for MnDOT, Linda Pate, designed and created the cone costume for another parade.  That was the year we began putting the “Gomobile” into the State Fair Parade and we thought this would be a good addition to our Gomobile.  Linda said that we could use it for the State Fair parade. The costume is not heavy at all, but consists of four hula hoops of varying sizes.  The first year I did not have heavy socks on, and it bonked my ankles as I walked, feeling kind of painful.  Since then, I’ve worn heavy socks or long pants under it, so it is much more comfortable. People love it – this time quite a few said they wanted to borrow it for Halloween and many people complimented me on my dress. It makes me feel loved and appreciated by the public, and when you are typically the information lady, otherwise known as the complaint lady it  is a fun change of pace.

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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