June 9, 2021
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Hwy 2 makeover is one of three major Bemidji projects in the next six years

By Leslie Seitz, District 2 Public Affairs

Photo: construction signage by a intersection under construction

Crews are a few weeks into RCI construction at Hwy 2/County Road 9 in District 2. The RCIs are being built to reduce the number of serious or fatal accidents at the intersection. Photo by Leslie Seitz

The first of three corridor improvement projects in Bemidji is part of a larger effort to put the brakes on the number of serious crashes in the area.

This summer, crews will add a series of reduced conflict intersections on Hwy 2 between Beltrami County Road 14, in Wilton, and Beltrami County Road 9. During the project, 48 new LED lighting units will also be installed along the corridor to improve lighting and safety.

The RCIs are intended to reduce the number of fatal or serious crashes along the stretch of roadway.

“There were 15 fatal and serious crashes between 2009 and 2019, and 53 percent of those were the result of a right-angle, or T-bone crash,” said Michelle Rognerud, District 2 traffic engineer. “These right-angle crashes often result in more severe injuries than other types of crashes. The RCI alternative significantly reduces the chances of right-angle crashes at an intersection.”

Instead of having to look for oncoming traffic from both directions at once, the RCI breaks the left turning or crossing movement into separate movements that are safer.

The project included multiple public engagement efforts including a public open house, five Technical Advisory Committee meetings, and multiple meetings with Eckles Township and the city of Wilton.

MnDOT also worked with the public and business owners to make some design accommodations that allow for driveway and public road access but still provide an overall design that improves safety.

The Hwy 2 project is the first of three major projects planned for the Bemidji area in the coming years. In 2022, MnDOT plans to build a roundabout at Hwy 71 and Anne Street, as well as a series of RCIs on Hwy 71 north of Anne Street. The Hwy 197 corridor is another major project, with construction tentatively scheduled for 2026 or 2027. This last project is currently in the midst of a virtual open house seeking public input. MnDOT, along with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, is working with a local Community Review Panel to develop a new alternative to recommend to the city of Bemidji by September.

“These projects with RCIs around Bemidji will be an adjustment for motorists who are used to making that left turn across the four lanes,” said Chad Eklund, Hwy 2 project supervisor. “However, the safety impact of this project is quite significant. There are big changes coming for Bemidji, and we are looking forward to the safety innovation that these projects will bring to the community.”

Learn more about all three projects:



Demonstration project provides safer trail crossing along North Shore

Pippi Mayfield, District 1 Public Engagement and Communications

Photo: a pedestrial crossing the road. New MnDOT signage to alert drivers is clearly visible.

Extra safety signage and bumpout bollards were installed in Beaver Bay at the Gitchi-Gami State Trail crossing. This is part of a demonstration project to slow/stop traffic and give trail users a safer experience crossing Hwy 61. Photo by Krysten Foster

Gitchi-Gami State Trail users have the opportunity to experience a safer crossing at Hwy 61 in Beaver Bay this summer.

After receiving feedback from trail users that motorists weren’t yielding to pedestrians, MnDOT got the ball rolling on a demonstration project to see what could be done to slow, or stop, traffic.

In response, MnDOT worked with the Gitchi-Gami Trail Association, the Department of Natural Resources, the city of Beaver Bay and Minnesota State Patrol to develop and evaluate a demonstration project for safer crossings.

Crews installed in-street “state law, stop for pedestrian” signs, stop bar pavement markings in advance of the trail crossing, “stop here for peds” signs in advance of the crossing and a raised curb with attached bollards (posts which prevent vehicles from entering) mimicking curb bump-outs.

When completed this summer, the Gitchi-Gami Trail will feature 86 miles of non-motorized, paved trail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to study how our proposed improvements might work at other at-grade trail crossings on Hwy 61 and throughout the state,” said Christian Lawien, District 1 project manager.

Maren Webb, District 1 planner, agreed.

“While at-grade trail crossings are avoided when possible, this demonstration project is allowing us to test and learn from different crossing improvements when an at-grade crossing is required,” she said.

Prior to the demonstration project this summer, MnDOT made several permanent improvements in fall 2020. Crossing signage was improved to indicate its use as a bicycle and pedestrian trail crossing, instead of just a pedestrian crossing.

“The demonstration project is building on these changes to see what additional enhancements will assist in increasing yielding of vehicles to trail users, reducing vehicle speeds and improving visibility for trail users crossing the state highway,” Webb said.

District 1 and partners will survey trail users this summer to see how effective the safety improvements were and if they should become permanent.

The success of this demonstration project may not necessarily mean permanent year-round changes. Since the North Shore sees much heavier traffic in the warmer months, the crossing safety features could be installed each spring and be taken down in the fall. Maintenance crews can then plow more efficiently without working around permanent bumpouts and other infrastructure that makes winter maintenance more difficult.

“That’s the unique feature of this demonstration project,” Webb said. “It allows MnDOT to test out a potential seasonal deployment of crossing improvements where the trail crossings and vehicular traffic levels vary greatly between seasons.”

No pedestrian-involved crashes have been reported at this crossing, but MnDOT is being proactive with the hope that improvements will decrease the risk of an incident – and help make pedestrians and bicyclists feel safer.



Roundtable event tackles the future of transportation funding

By Joseph Palmersheim

As vehicles get more fuel efficient, a yet-to-be answered question remains: how will this impact funding for Minnesota roads?

MnDOT staff will participate in an upcoming “Rethinking Transportation Finance Roundtable: Transition to Distance-Based Fees” event from 3:30–5 p.m. Monday, June 14. This event, the third in a series by the Humphrey School’s State and Local Policy Program, focuses on familiarizing state transportation and policy leaders with distance-based user fees and user-based transportation funding alternatives.

MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher will provide opening remarks, and MnDOT road pricing program director, will moderate a roundtable discussion on Minnesota’s Distance-Based Fee demonstration project and Minnesota legislative perspectives on a future transition to a new system of road usage charges.

So what is a DBF? Buckeye describes it as a fee levied on drivers for each mile of travel on public roads.  In essence, the DBF is intended to recover some of the revenue that is not being collected from the motor fuel tax due to increasingly fuel efficient vehicles. 

Minnesota, like most states, relies heavily on the gas tax to build and maintain roads and bridges. While the gas tax continues to be a significant source of highway revenue, today’s vehicles are using less gas and are increasingly reliant on other energy sources like electricity. In effect, the public is driving more but paying less for gasoline and, consequently, less in gas taxes to sustain sufficient levels of highway funding. This trend is expected to continue and eventually accelerate.

One of the big issues with DBF deployments is the cost of collection, Buckeye said. In both Oregon and Utah, the only two states with DBFs, the cost of operating their road user charge system exceeds the revenue collected. The presumption is that would change with economies of scale, but it is not clear how much.

Minnesota’s DBF demonstration is an attempt to show how embedded telematics might be used to enhance the efficiency of fee collection. The project collected data between April 2020 and March 2021 from two car-share companies in Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with data from a simulation using an automated vehicle supplied by VSI Labs in St. Louis Park. Final analysis and final report preparation is underway.

Embedded telematics, the hardware capable of collecting and transmitting data, is built into the vehicles used in the test. It cannot be removed, altered or corrupted by the user (at least in theory, Buckeye noted). That was a significant component of the demonstration, because almost all other demonstrations used “add-on” technology, which is vulnerable to manipulation, and therefore fraud or fee avoidance.

“We focused on the car-sharing business because their embedded telematics most closely represented what we believe will be available in the future on all new vehicles,” Buckeye said. “Importantly, we also believe use of the embedded telematics for data collection will enhance efficiency of operations while meeting data security and privacy demands. The car-share telematics system enables a user to reserve a car via a smartphone app, and then open the vehicle when the user chooses. Beyond that, the reporting of mileage is sent back via cellular communications to the central server in order to appropriately charge the user. This makes it very convenient for the user, and the government never sees the personal trip data because it is aggregated for reporting.”

The DBF demonstration in Minnesota is an attempt to show how the “user-pays” principle, used in the motor fuel tax, might be deployed fairly on the new generation of vehicles that use less motor fuels, Buckeye said.

“A mileage- or distance-based fee is one potential way to close the highway funding gap and ensure everyone is paying their fair share,” Buckeye explained. “This is an enormously challenging problem that states are facing. The federal government has provided financial incentives through the FAST Act for states to study and demonstrate alternatives to the gas tax. This DBF Roundtable is an attempt to bring together experts to discuss the pros and cons of various approaches and ideas.”

Learn more about Distance-Based Fees



Leadership Development Program open enrollment starts June 21

Open enrollment for the next cohorts of MnDOT’s Leadership Development Program runs Monday, June 21, to Friday, July 23, 2021.

This program allows all employees to work on core competencies and attend learning opportunities that fit their work schedule. More than 1,700 employees have participated since LDP started in 2012.

Employees can participate in Group 17 or Group 18. Group 17’s program year is Sept. 1, 2021, through July 29, 2022. Group 18’s program year is March 1, 2022, through Jan. 27, 2023.

To enroll, complete the Participant/Supervisor Commitment Agreement, get the necessary signatures and send it to the LDP team no later than July 23. An additional open enrollment period will begin in December for Group 18.

Participants in this 11-month program will learn valuable leadership skills, network with other MnDOT employees, gain exposure to different MnDOT offices, and learn from professionals.

“I enrolled in LDP because I found myself in a new position that requires a different skillset than the position I had before,” said Eric Bell, interim senior legal counsel, Office of Chief Counsel. “LDP is helping me develop skills in areas that are less familiar to me. I am using LDP to develop my skills in the areas of process management, project management and communication. The lessons I’m learning are helping me in the present but will also benefit me in the future.”

The LDP team is hosting 60-minute information sessions to help employees learn more about the program. Interested employees should email Shawn Meade with the session date they want to attend.



Protecting pollinators with a flip of a switch

By Christopher E. Smith, Office of Environmental Stewardship

Graphic showing four light pollution scenarios, ranging from very bad (a lot of light) to best (a little light, pointed at the ground). Text on the graphic says use outdoor lighting responsibly by only using it where it's needed, when it's needed and in the amount required. Use the lowest light level required, limite blue-violet light, utilize timers or motion sensors, and use shielding.

Pollinators are all the buzz these days, and another National Pollinator Week is less than two weeks away.

Many people are familiar with efforts to plant more flowers, ideally native wildflowers, to create habitat for pollinators – including the state bee and butterfly (rusty-patched bumble bee and monarch butterfly, respectively). But these pollinators, and other species, are also impacted by light pollution.

Light pollution is the presence of artificial light in the night environment. It can affect human hormone levels and disrupt people’s circadian rhythms, leading to sleep disorders. Light pollution’s effect on natural resources is wide-ranging. Light may repel some species and attract others – both of which can be problematic. Insects attracted to lights at night are examples of a maladaptive phenomenon of lights disrupting natural behaviors.

As part of installing and maintaining a variety of lighting infrastructure, MnDOT strives to minimize unintended lighting impacts. The agency uses the B.U.G. (backlight, uplight, glare) rating system to measure the amount of light that “spills” or “trespasses” beyond the fixture:

  • Backlight refers to the light emitting from behind a fixture.
  • Uplight shines upward from a fixture towards the sky.
  • Glare refers to difficulty seeing in the presence of bright light.

Many MnDOT projects are required to specify products that have an uplight rating of 0, and a backlight and glare rating as low as possible while still meeting lighting needs. These ratings are provided by product manufactures.

In addition to light spillover, many other factors must be considered when assessing the effects of lighting on people and natural resources. Factors such as color temperature, measured in Kelvin (the higher the Kelvin rating, the whiter the light) are also important to consider. Generally, the lower the color temperature, the lower the impact to humans and natural resources.

When lighting is required, the Department of Natural Resources and many other organizations encourage the use of lights in the range of 2,700-3,500 Kelvin. This is sometimes a permit requirement for MnDOT projects – including certain bridges and roadways with known light-sensitive species. Lighting with a color temperature of 5,000 Kelvin or higher is more like daylight and may result in the unintended consequences mentioned above.

“There are increasing concerns over possible unintended impacts of roadway lighting on the environment,” said Peter Leete, DNR-MnDOT liaison. “It’s a balancing act between providing safe roadways and facilities for travelers while minimizing unintended environmental impacts.”

More information:



Upcoming events

Keep up-to-date on MnDOT staff-related events by regularly checking the iHUB calendar. Events coming up in the next two weeks include:

  • June 22: Lunch and Learn - Vehicle Miles Traveled reduction

The Policy Planning Unit is hosting a series of online trivia events as part of “Let’s Talk Transportation!” This live trivia game presents transportation issues using colorful comics that encourage people to share their transportation experiences.

  • June 16 (Noon to 1 p.m.) – Climate Change
  • June 17 (4-4:45 p.m.) – Economy and Employment
  • June 23 (Noon to 1 p.m.) – Equity
  • June 24 (4-4:45 p.m.) – Aging Infrastructure
  • June 25 (noon to 1 p.m.) – Agency wide – multiple topics
  • June 30 (noon to 1 p.m.) – Transportation Options
  • July 1 (4-4:45 p.m.) – Safety

View full calendar



On the Job: Joel Klucas has created road signage for 23 years

By Rich Kemp

Photo: Joel Klucas

Joel Klucas. Photo by Rich Kemp

Joel Klucas has helped MnDOT create and put up signs around the Twin Cities Metro area for 23 years. He started as a laborer in the Golden Valley sign shop in 1998.

What has been your career path?
After starting as a laborer in the sign shop, I was hired full time in 2000. I worked in the Golden Valley sign shop for 15 years. I installed signs, ran the message crew for a time, assisted in crane qualifications and occasionally drove the follow truck for the stripers. I became a transportation generalist senior in 2010. I am now working at the State Sign Shop in Oakdale.

What do you do in your current job?
I fabricate signs, which includes covering sign blanks with reflective sheeting, peeling and covering messages with pre-space tape, and applying messages to signs. I also do the quoting for all the orders, get all the striping bills paid and recorded, process checks and purchase orders and various other things.

What is your favorite part of your job?
I like the variety of tasks and the people I work with at the sign shop. However, I do miss working outside. That’s the one thing I miss most. The hours are great here and I like being busy.

What are your biggest challenges?
I suppose keeping up with everything can get pretty busy. I try to keep the customers happy.

Has your job changed a lot because of COVID-19?
Not really. I just have to take more precautions, like the health screening and wear a mask.

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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