Jan. 8, 2020
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Roadside LED lighting conversion nears completion

Photo: Bright LED streetlights at night

These LED lights illuminate roadways around the Twin Cities metro, including this stretch of Interstate 35W on the St. Anthony Falls bridge in Minneapolis. MnDOT file photo

By Joseph Palmersheim

Photo: bottom of LED light

Closeup of an LED roadway light. The LEDs last about 70,000 hours, or an average of 16 years, before needing to be replaced. MnDOT file photo

It’s a pretty bright idea.

More than 90 percent of MnDOT’s 28,000 high-pressure sodium lights have been converted to LED since MnDOT started the process nearly four years ago in March 2016.

More than 18,000 lights on roadway and high-mast tower lights were changed in the Twin Cities metro area. Roadway lights generally have one or two fixtures mounted on the end and require a bucket truck to service them. In contrast, high-mast towers are 100 to 140 feet tall, with multiple ring-mounted light fixtures that can be raised and lowered.

Remaining sodium lights in tunnels, such as the one under Lowry Hill, are set to be replaced as they reach the end of their service lives and are recycled.

There are several benefits in moving from high-pressure sodium bulbs to LEDs, including lower operating costs and less need for servicing. The LEDs last about 70,000 hours, or an average of 16 years before needing to be replaced. In comparison, the high-pressure sodium bulbs, first commercially available in the mid-1960s, need to be replaced every four years.

“Changing to LEDs has an overall lifecycle cost reduction that saves the state approximately $2 million each year,” said Michael Gerbensky, Metro District signal design and lighting management engineer. “It minimizes the frequency of maintenance, which keeps our maintenance staff safer. Another benefit is that previously we received a five-year warranty with high-pressure sodium bulbs, but that has increased to 10 years with LEDs, which provides the taxpayer with additional protection.”

The move to LEDs not only saves money, but also creates a better experience for those who use the roads.

“LED luminaires are able to direct light better than the high-pressure sodium could,” said Sue Zarling, traffic electrical systems engineer. “This allows us to better put light on the road where we want it and not in areas that we don’t want to light. We’ve found the whiter light from LEDs is typically preferred by drivers, and there is a lower percentage of LED luminaires being out compared to their older counterparts.”

More than 9,000 roadway lights in Greater Minnesota have been upgraded to LED, Zarling said.

“One of the biggest challenges in Greater Minnesota is there are many cases where there are a small number of luminaires that are a significant distance from others, potentially making it less cost effective to do a group change out,” Zarling said. “Maintenances staff change the luminaires at those locations as they get to them. These tend to be at rural intersections.”

LED conversion work is expected to wrap up by the end of 2020.



Northstar commuter rail eyes expansion to St. Cloud

By Jesse Johnson, Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations

Photo: Northstar Line trail idling on a railroad track

The Northstar Line, operated by Metro Transit, provided almost 800,000 rides in 2018 using track and right of way owned by BNSF Railway. Photo by David Gonzalez

Options to travel from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities aren’t limited to those with wheels.

Commuters have the option of taking a two-hour journey that starts with a bus ride from St. Cloud to Big Lake, and continues with a ride on the Northstar commuter rail line to downtown Minneapolis.

However, that journey could change in the future.

The Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations is studying the feasibility of extending one or more trains on the Northstar Line to St. Cloud, reducing that journey to a single train ride. The Northstar Line, which is operated by Metro Transit, provided almost 800,000 rides in 2018 using track and right of way owned by BNSF Railway.

Each weekday morning, Northstar trains make five inbound trips from Big Lake to Minneapolis, and one outbound trip to Big Lake, with stops in Elk River, Ramsey, Anoka, Coon Rapids/Riverdale and Fridley. In the evening, Northstar makes one inbound trip to Minneapolis, and five outbound trips to Big Lake.

The study, which received $650,000 in funding from the Minnesota Legislature, involves developing alternative operating plans in coordination with BNSF on how existing Northstar trains between Minneapolis and Big Lake could continue on to St. Cloud on existing BNSF track, without affecting BNSF freight rail operations.

Once MnDOT and BNSF develop alternatives, they will be presented to elected officials and the public for feedback and comment, and to the Legislature for potential funding and approval.

A public hearing is set for Jan. 30 at the St. Cloud library.



New CAV Advisory Council meets for first time

By Anne Meyer

Photo of three members of the CAV advisory council

Members of the new CAV Advisory Council include, from left, Chairwoman MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher; Co-Chair Phil Magney, VSI Labs; and Kristin White, MnDOT CAV executive director. Photo by Rich Kemp

A new council tasked with helping the state prepare for the opportunities and challenges associated with connected and automated vehicles met for the first time Dec. 13 at Central Office.

Gov. Tim Walz’s CAV Advisory Council includes Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher serving as chair. It also includes representatives from city and county governments, the trucking and auto industries, legal research, insurance companies and the University of Minnesota. State departments involved include Health, Public Safety, Agriculture, Administration and Commerce. Members will serve four-year terms.

The Governor’s CAV Advisory Council is scheduled to meet again Jan. 22 and Feb. 18.

Learn more about the council and its members.



Staffing updates

By Joseph Palmersheim

Photo: Nancy Daubenberger

Nancy Daubenberger. Photo by Rich Kemp

Nancy Daubenberger has been appointed as deputy commissioner and chief engineer.

The 20-year MnDOT employee most recently served as the assistant commissioner for the Engineering Services Division. She has also worked as the state bridge engineer and in other planning and management capacities in the Bridge office and the Metro District. Prior to joining MnDOT, she worked for consulting firms performing bridge and road design work and project management.

Daubenberger holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from North Dakota State University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota. 


Photo: Mark Gieseke

Mark Gieseke. Photo by Rich Kemp

Mark Gieseke has accepted the temporary appointment of assistant commissioner for the Engineering Services Division.

Gieseke has been working as the assistant division director for the Engineering Services Division, as well as serving a few months as a temporary assistant commissioner for the State Aid and Statewide Radio Communications Division. He has worked for the state for more than 35 years, starting out as a rotating graduate engineer before eventually serving in a variety of roles, including state materials testing engineer and office director for Transportation System Management.

Gieseke has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from South Dakota State University and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.



District 4 opens new Evansville truck station

Photo: Overhead shot of people gathtered in the new Evansville truck station. MnDOT employees are wearing yellow safety vests.

MnDOT hosted an open house at the new Evansville truck station Dec. 10, with nearly 70 people from the community in attendance. The new campus was completed last spring. At the event, the public had the opportunity to tour the buildings, meet local staff and learn more about the equipment MnDOT uses to maintain federal and state highways in the area. Photo by Emma Olson


Employees statewide give back to their communities

By Joseph Palmersheim

The holidays annually provide an opportunity for MnDOT employees to show their true colors by helping those in need. Here are a few recent highlights:

Photo: donations gathered for the Listening House

Staff from MnDOT, MPCA, MAPE Locals 801 and 301, and the Hiway Federal Credit Union partnered this holiday season to raise $1,098 and collect 437 pairs of socks for the Listening House, a day shelter and community center. Photo by Rich Kemp

Central Office:

Staff from MnDOT, MPCA, MAPE Locals 801 and 301, and the Hiway Federal Credit Union partnered this holiday season to raise $1,098 and collect 437 pairs of socks for the Listening House, a day shelter and community center providing hospitality, practical assistance and guidance to men and women who are disadvantaged, homeless or lonely.

“Every year, MnDOT and MAPE Local 801 choose a local nonprofit to focus our fundraising efforts,” said co-organizer Cheryl Hunstock, training coordinator, Office of Land Management. “So often state employees and union members are seen negatively in the press. Sometimes we are seen as only out for ourselves at the taxpayers’ expense. Well, each year we like to show that we are not like that. We care about our community and want to give back.”

Hunstock said The Listening House was “blown away by our donations.” Hunstock, along with fellow event organizers Nancy Stone (State Aid) and Mark Snyder (Resource Management and Assistance) delivered the donations on Dec. 13.

“They were very appreciative,” she said. “Their reaction was gratifying. I feel like we really contributed in a way that they can then help people that really need help.”


District 1

District 1 held a toy drive for the Salvation Army, collecting 25 toys and $60 in cash.


District 2

Spearheaded by Staci Cann, transportation program specialist, employees donated $1,169 to the silent auction/potluck in honor of a retired district employee whose grandson is battling cancer. Also, a stocking was hung and district employees donated gift cards, cash and gas cards for another district employee whose granddaughter is battling cancer. The stocking raised $335.

District employees held four events throughout 2019 to help co-workers during difficult times. Joe McKinnon, engineer administrative, also spearheaded the combined charity campaign, which donated money to the Bemidji High School food shelf. 

Together, district employees raised a total of $6,311.


Photo: three men posing together, with the middle one holding a donation envelope

District 3B employees donated 72 toys at a Toys for Tots holiday lunch fundraiser. From left are Mark Renn, roadway regulations supervisor engineering specialist; retired Marine Steve Titus, St. Cloud Marine Toys for Tots; and Mike Kiley, granite sub area supervisor. Photo by Kristy Barhorst

District 3

District 3B employees in St. Cloud raised $2,402. This included a $300 donation from the AFSCME union. Employees also donated 72 toys at a Toys for Tots holiday lunch fundraiser. The donations were accepted by retired Marine Steve Titus, Toys for Tots. He has accepted donations at the St. Cloud event for the past 13 years.

District 3A employees in Baxter raised $1,042, which also included a $200 donation from the AFSCME union and received 25 gifts to be donated at a holiday potluck lunch for Toys for Kids. The donations were accepted by the Marine Corps League.


Photo: people seated at long tables during the potluck

Employees from MnDOT District 4, Driver and Vehicle Services and State Patrol in Detroit Lakes gathered Dec. 10 for the 25th Annual Charity Potluck. Photo by Bryan Christensen

District 4

Employees from MnDOT, Driver and Vehicle Services and State Patrol in Detroit Lakes joined forces Dec. 10 for the 25th Annual Charity Potluck to raise money for Hospice of the Red River Valley, complete with a hotdish cook-off and charity drawing. They raised $2,000, bringing total donations since 1995 to $36,057.


District 6

MnDOT and State Patrol employees teamed up during the holiday season to support Toys for Tots. Employees donated $800 and filled two bins with toys at the Rochester headquarters. Each year, Marnie Krohse, accounting technician, works with volunteers of Toys for Tots to make the drive happen at District 6. MnDOT and State Patrol employees also hosted a toy drive at an old MnDOT weigh scale near Winona Dec. 14. Members of the public helped fill a plow and a squad car with toys.

Overall, 18,936 toys were distributed to 7,804 children during 2019 in southeast Minnesota because of Toys for Tots.


Photo: nine women gathered around a shopping cart

District 7 employees helped with bell ringing at a local Hy-Vee Dec. 14. From left are Kristin Underwood, training; Macy Wagner, human resources; Tami Bergemann, business manager; Beck Albrecht, safety; Wendy Jones, receptionist; Jill Brandt, human resources; Jenn Worthington, human resources; Haley Eustace, safety, and LaVonne Nicolai, human resources: Photo by Greg Ous.

District 7

District 7’s Human Resources and Safety Team helped with bell-ringing efforts at a local Hy-Vee Dec. 14. They raised $350 during the two hours.

“Apparently, the Salvation Army site says that the kettle raises on average $30 per hour in their kettles,” a participant noted. “Our musical talents must have helped.”

The District 7 Mankato Headquarters also participates in the State Patrol District 2200’s Toys for Tots.
Finally, the second annual Echo Food Drive Competition started Jan. 6 and runs to Jan. 30.



On the Job: Siri Simons works with staff to reduce resource use, waste production

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Siri Simons works in the Sustainability and Public Health Office. She says it's exciting to be part of a newly created office dedicated to making MnDOT a leader and an example of sustainability in action. The image below is linked to a larger version.

Siri, who has been with MnDOT for three years, says I have worked at the Sustainability and Public Health office for approximately one year. I feel privileged to work with Central Office and District staff to develop strategies to reduce our fleet fuel usage, energy and water consumption and waste production. Our office is also currently working with hydraulic engineering staff to research the impact of climate change on extreme flood vulnerability for MnDOT pipes, bridges and culverts. When asked what she liks about her job, she says That I get to think about how MnDOTís work will impact Minnesotans today and in the future. Minnesotaís Next Generation Energy Act sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050; I will still be working and raising my family then! I enjoy supporting various climate change efforts the agency is involved in from reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the state transportation sector to considering our agencyís own transportation footprint. Helping the agency address sustainability issues in a cost-effective way is rewarding. When asked what challenges she faces in her job, she says Itís challenging to estimate the impacts of climate change in Minnesota. State and agency leadership acknowledge our climate is changing and staff want to do the right thing. But when it comes to putting a number on the changes we face, there is some level of uncertainty. It is exciting to be part of a newly-created office that is dedicated to making MnDOT a leader and an example of sustainability in action. From MnDOTís recent community solar garden subscriptions to our conversion to highway LED lighting, our agency is committed to making a difference in this area.

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: 


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