April 27, 2016
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MnDOT announces 2016 program, urges Legislature to pass long-term funding bill

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Photo of Charlie Zelle, Tina Smith, Mike Barnes, Mike Hanson and Tom O'Keefe.

Commissioner Charlie Zelle speaks during the construction kickoff April 14. Lt. Gov., Tina Smith; Mike Barnes, assistant commissioner for operations; Capt. Mike Hanson, Minnesota State Patrol; and Tom O’Keefe, Metro District program delivery director; listen to Zelle’s remarks during the news conference. Photo by Rich Kemp

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Commissioner Charlie Zelle announced a list of 244 construction projects this year at the construction kickoff April 14. MnDOT engineers statewide also held local news conferences to provide the district angle on the 2016 construction program.

“Forecasts for state transportation revenue show that our need is quickly outstripping the available resources,” said Smith. “Minnesota roads, bridges and transit networks form the backbone of our economy. Our plan would provide the resources we need to create a 21st century transportation system and build an economy that works for all Minnesotans.”

Smith urged the Legislature to pass a long-term, sustainable funding solution this year.

Gov. Dayton and Smith proposed a comprehensive transportation funding plan that would invest $6 billion over the next 10 years to alleviate the state’s highway funding deficit. The plan would repair or replace 2,200 miles of roads and 330 bridges statewide. It also would provide local communities additional resources.

“What we need now is a long-term vision for Minnesota’s transportation system,” said Zelle. “It’s all in the arithmetic. Our needs are outpacing our revenue projections. If we don’t increase the revenue, we cannot plan for good capital investments. Our system will continue to degrade and not provide the support our economic needs.”

More than half of Minnesota’s roads are more than 50 years old. And 40 percent of the state’s bridges are more than 40 years old. In the next 10 years more than 40 percent of the state’s roads will be past their useful life. The projects scheduled for this year will help slow the ongoing degradation of the existing system in the short term.

Photo of Dresbach Bridge.

Construction on a new Interstate 90 Bridge over the Mississippi River at Dresbach will continue this construction season. Photo by Mike Dougherty

The 2016 construction program includes work on 63 projects in the Twin Cities and 138 projects in Greater Minnesota. An additional 43 projects statewide will improve safety at railroad crossings, repair seawalls and docks, make improvements on runways and terminals at regional airports, and improve transit centers.

For a complete list of projects, visit

Mike Barnes, assistant commissioner for operations,  described what goes into the project selection process, including analyzing the condition of the infrastructure, safety issues, traffic on the roadway, when the last repair or rebuild occurred, and the return on investment.

He noted that MnDOT doesn’t do programming in a vacuum, but works closely with cities, counties, area transportation planners and other stakeholders to develop the transportation plans.

Barnes also talked about National Work Zone Safety week and MnDOT’s commitment to building and operating a safe transportation system, including installing cable median barriers and rumble strips.

“One thing we can’t do is engineer the behavior of people behind the wheel,” he said.

He encouraged drivers to help keep the roadways safe by paying attention to speed limits and not using cell phones while driving.

Keep up with this year’s construction program by reading MnDOT Newsline ( and by regularly checking MnDOT’s website (


Groundbreaking for Hwy 371 project takes place in Pequot Lakes

By Rich Kemp

Commissioner Charlie Zelle, along with local leaders, spoke during a groundbreaking ceremony in Pequot Lakes April 15 for the Hwy 371 expansion project between Nisswa and Jenkins. Photo by JP Gillach

The Hwy 371 expansion project in Central Minnesota kicked off with a groundbreaking ceremony April 15 in Pequot Lakes. The highway will be expanded from two lanes to four lanes from Nisswa to Jenkins.

The project also will install a new Cullen Brook bridge (box culvert) in north Nisswa and re-align the highway around Pequot Lakes. The Paul Bunyan Trail will be realigned and will include a new bridge over Hwy 371 in south Pequot Lakes.

Crews have completed clearing the future road’s right of way. That process left behind huge piles of woodchips. The good news is that all of those woodchips – around 50,000 cubic yards, or 5,000 dump trucks worth, or enough to cover 30 acres in a foot of woodchips – will not go to waste. They will all be used as part of the project. Some of the woodchips will be used this year for erosion control to protect sensitive environmental areas, and some will be used to create a platform for equipment needed to build lanes and the new box culvert at Cullen Brook.

Woodchips, remaining from the cleanup of Hwy 371’s right of way, will be used during the project. Photo by Randy Shoen

Hwy 371 will be open to traffic at all times. Business access will be maintained and open. Motorists may encounter shoulder closures, narrow lanes or lane shifts. There may be periodic lane closures with flagger operations and local access road closures with detours.

The two-year project will cost $49.9 million ($45 million Corridors of Commerce funds) and Mathiowetz Construction was awarded the design-build contract.

For more information on the Hwy 371 four-lane expansion, check out the project website.


District 6 workers collaborate to build hydraulic inspection explorer, start production for others

By Mike Dougherty, District 6 public affairs coordinator

Photo of Chade Trupe.

Chade Trupe, District 6 transportation materials technician in the Rochester Inventory Center, built a hydraulic inspection vehicle explorer from equipment and parts from a hobby shop and hardware store. He is building more HIVEs for other MnDOT districts. Photo by Mike Dougherty

An idea for more efficient and effective culvert, pipe and catch basin inspections in District 6 that had percolated in the head of Rob Coughlin came to life in 2015 and is now rippling out to other MnDOT districts.

The Hydraulic Inspection Vehicle Explorer or HIVE is the creation of Coughlin, a water resources inspector in Rochester, and Chade Trupe, a transportation materials technician in the District 6 Rochester Inventory Center.

Their first effort is nearing its one-year anniversary in May. Trupe built one recently for water resources in the Metro District and is in the process of building a HIVE for District 1. Each vehicle costs approximately $1,500. The inspector needs a tablet for video viewing in the field. Contrast that with a full fiber-optic video inspection unit that requires multiple people and equipment that can cost upwards of $80,000, according to Coughlin and Trupe.

The two collaborated to modify a radio-controlled vehicle with a camera, lights and retrieval line to allow just one inspector to review and analyze the conditions of culverts, pipes and catch basins with a much greater thoroughness and much less expense. It is also smaller than the typical camera and can fit in tight spots where the traditional camera cannot fit. It is also waterproof, so it will help in many situations where there is standing water in pipes or culverts.

Coughlin was seeking a low-cost, efficient way to improve his inspection efforts when a worker could not enter for a full visual inspection because of the size of the pipe or the degree of difficulty. Larger video inspection units are available through MnDOT, but are in demand and scheduling can be challenging to meet each district’s full needs.


Last year, Coughlin was talking about the plans with Trupe and Mark Hill, who are in the Rochester Inventory Center. It turns out that Trupe and Hill both are long-time radio-controlled car enthusiasts, who build and repair their own vehicles, while also competing in race events.

Soon, Trupe was developing a product based on Coughlin’s needs and initial plans.

Photo of Rob Coughlin.

Rob Coughlin, a District 6 water resources inspector, explains to students at a Rochester STEM Summit how the hydraulic inspection vehicle explorer works. Photo by Mike Dougherty

Coughlin headed out into the field in May 2015 with a radio-controlled car rigged up to give him an inside view. He totes the entire operation around in a cardboard box.

“I can pull this out of the truck and be set up in minutes to inspect,” Coughlin said. “I use it every day.”

Coughlin has a Sony action camera mounted on the car, which also has spotlights. The camera and lights can be moved around via the radio controls. A Wi-Fi connection sends the signal to Coughlin’s tablet for viewing and recording. It uses a retrieval line in case the vehicle tumbles into a hole and it has a red rear light for tracking its progress into a dark pipe.

He’s documented 60 pipes and looked over about 100 so far. He said it’s been mainly used in scoping work, but can be used for various needs.

“We’ve had trial and error, but you learn a lot as you use it,” Coughlin said.

Helping out

Trupe is quick to credit the teamwork in the inventory center. Trupe’s supervisor, Pete Czaplewski, said it was a chance for inventory to contribute to MnDOT’s efforts in a different way.

“We really have a good team with Carl (Evers) and Mark who can help out to give Chade the time to do this as it demands,” Czaplewski said. “We manage it, but it takes everyone willing to do what needs to be done.”

Trupe said his goal is to complete the future builds in six to eight hours. His initial effort took about 13 hours, but he said the first one for Coughlin was custom made, whereas the follow-up versions are off the shelf and he knows what’s needed to build a HIVE.

Hill is assisting in cataloguing the parts and assembly steps electronically, so that they can be shared and replacement parts can be quickly purchased, if needed.

Trupe has worked with radio-controlled vehicles since he was 14. He’s got seven vehicles at home.

“It’s my passion,” he said. “I’ve done it for 32 years and love it.”

What he likes about this project is that he’s participating in something that helps the district do its job better and saves money.

“It’s a true means of saving money,” he said.

And while it might end up resulting in finding more repair and replacement needs for culverts, pipes and catch basins, it’s more likely to find the pipes and culverts in a time where it’s more efficient to schedule those repairs into a planned project along the roadway. Discovering the needs in an emergency situation is far more costly and dangerous.

Coughlin has already seen the results of finding pipes and culverts where there’s damage in an area he wouldn’t have likely been able to detect in the past. With the visual confirmation, they can determine the full need of the repairs and the timeliness of when it’s needed.

MnDOT usage

The Metro District sought a vehicle to get accurate cost estimates at the time of project scoping. 

“We need to be able to view inside the pipes, culverts and catch basins to determine what repairs or replacements need to be made,” said Lee Daleiden, hydrologist with Metro’s Water Resources.

Cost estimates are based on the infrastructure condition information from the videos. 

“The remote-controlled vehicle with camera will be used where we don’t have adequate information at the time of scoping,” Daleiden said. “There is a backlog of projects that need video inspection services and we are unable to completely fulfill those needs via other methods. The remote controlled vehicle and camera will also be used in instances where we have emergency situations where we need immediate answers to pipe and culvert repair options.”

Trupe said the building of Metro’s vehicle went much faster than the initial D6 vehicle. He’s got a small work station tucked back in the Rochester Inventory Center with parts and tools needed for assembly.

“This is a hobby-grade vehicle that’s designed to take a lot of abuse and go lots of places,” he said. “I’m very honored that we were able to put the work into it and that it’s gone over as well as it has.”

Fallen transportation workers will be honored during ceremonies April 28

Poster for Workers Memorial Day.

Workers Memorial Day will honor fallen transportation workers around the state April 28.

MnDOT employees will honor fallen transportation workers April 28. Gov. Mark Dayton has proclaimed the day as Workers Memorial Day.

Commissioner Charlie Zelle will send a message to all employees, while District 6 and District 7 will hold events to honor workers who were killed or injured on the job.

District 6 is having its Workers Memorial Day event from 9 -10 a.m. at the Rochester Truck Station. The event will include a District 6 worker who was involved in a crash, the State Patrol, the Rochester mayor, chief of staff Eric Davis, as well as a union representative.

District 7 will have a ceremony at the Mankato motor pool at 8:45 a.m. The event will include speakers, along with health and financial vendor booths.

Central Office and Metro District will honor fallen employees with a safety vest and hard hat placed on chairs along with 2016 Worker Memorial poster.

Since 1960, 34 MnDOT workers and 15 contractors have lost their lives while working on Minnesota highways.

April 28 has been recognized nationally and locally since 1989 as a day of remembrance for workers who were injured or killed on the job.


Central Office employee eligible for vacation donation

Photo of Joe Sass and his daughter Hadley.

Joe Sass, information technology specialist, has used up his leave to be with his daughter Hadley, who was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer in April. Photo courtesy of Sass family

Joe Sass, information technology specialist with MN.IT Services at MnDOT, is now eligible for the state vacation donation program, which allows employees to donate up to 40 hours of vacation per fiscal year for approved recipients who have exhausted their sick and vacation leave due to injury or illness.

Sass has been an employee since February 2015.  

In April, his 22 month-old daughter, Hadley, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. Hadley has started chemotherapy at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis with the hope of treating her cancer to the point where she can have surgery. As a result of his daughter's life threatening illness, Sass is unable to work and has exhausted all of his sick and vacation leave accruals.

To donate vacation hours, go to the Employee Self Service Web site and click “Other Payroll” and then “Leave Donations.” The site also allows employees to view a list of all state employees eligible for the program and enroll as a recipient.

Related information:
Donated vacation hours help Metro District employee through life-threatening illness (Newsline, Dec. 22, 2015)—Read a viewpoint from one MnDOT recipient.


Senior leadership team meets to plan agency WIG

By Jocelyn Stein, strategic programs director

Photo of Amr Jabr, Tim Henkel, Chris Roy, Dan DuHamel, Sue Muvilhill and Mitch Rasmussen.

Members of the senior leadership team (from left) Amr Jabr, Tim Henkel, Chris Roy, Dan DuHamel, Sue Mulvihill and Mitch Rasmussen brainstorm subWIGs to gain insights on how best to earn customer trust. Photo by Jocelyn Stein

MnDOT’s Senior Leadership Team met April 18 to plan the agency’s new Wildly Important Goal, known as WIG 2.0. The team had previously developed the following outcome statement for WIG 2.0:

MnDOT will earn trust and increase transparency through a customer-centered organization in which we engage customers, listen to understand and balance the diverse needs of all to achieve the best possible outcomes.

FranklinCovey representatives facilitated the April 18 meeting where senior leaders grappled with how MnDOT will best meet the above outcomes over the next couple of years using the 4 Disciplines of Execution. The day was the culmination of several months of strategic planning and discussion on how to keep the momentum going of Enhancing Financial Effectiveness, WIG 1.0.

MnDOT employees are currently working through WIG 2.0 Development Assignments to help inform senior leadership as they shape WIG 2.0’s launch, planned for this summer.

Here are some ways the information provided in WIG 2.0 Development will be used:

  • Have a better understanding of gaps that exist and ideas for filling them
  • Gain a better understanding of who our customers are and what they want
  • Be able to better identify areas that may be able to work more closely to work for the same customers
  • Be better able to tell MnDOT’s story and engage with the public
  • Have data that can be used to create subWIGs and team WIGs that roll up to the agency-wide WIG

MnDOT leaders and local coaches will attend 4DX training hosted by FranklinCovey in May and June. In these training sessions, participants will work with their teams to develop sub-WIGs and measures that roll up to the agency-wide WIG.

“I’m really excited to see all of the energy and commitment employees are devoting to the WIG 2.0 Development Assignments,” said Tracy Hatch, deputy commissioner, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. “The feedback we’ve already gotten from Assignment 1 will help us shape the future of MnDOT. It’s amazing to see the progress we made in WIG 1.0. I look forward to what we’ll be able to accomplish together in our next WIG.”

MnDOT has used the 4 Disciplines of Execution since late 2013 as the method to achieve its most important goals. The WIG is intended to create a strategic focus to pull the most critical tasks out of the “whirlwind” of day-to-day work for special attention. Employees make one or two weekly commitments that help achieve their team’s objectives.

For questions about WIG 2.0, contact your Local Coach, email *DOT_WIG or visit the WIG 2.0 website on the ihub home page.


Drones, flash flood slide prevention among MnDOT's research implementation picks

By Micheal Foley, Research Services

Photo of a drone.

MnDOT is researching how best to integrate drones into its bridge inspection procedures. Photo courtesy of Collins Engineering

Developing the guidance needed to begin using drones for bridge inspections statewide is among MnDOT’s latest batch of research implementation projects.

The Transportation Research Innovation Group recently announced 12 projects for funding in fiscal year 2017. In addition to MnDOT’s pioneering drone research, the top initiatives include projects that will improve the accuracy of bridge load ratings, map slopes statewide to identify locations vulnerable to flash floods and study a one-year membership to a digital engineering library.

Each winter, MnDOT solicits proposals from staff who want to put local or national research into practice in their day-to-day work.

Implementation ideas are submitted via the IdeaScale website and developed into full proposals with the assistance of Bruce Holdhusen, Research Services senior engineer. TRIG, the state research program’s governing board, then chooses projects for funding based on benefits, impacts to the department and support from management. A high percentage of proposals are funded.

Photo of road washout near Duluth.

By identifying slopes that are vulnerable to slides, MnDOT can target areas that should have embankment work done as part of future highway projects in those areas. Photo by David Gonzalez

“Implementation funding allows flexibility for MnDOT practitioners to purchase equipment and use a consultant or university as needed,” Holdhusen said. 

The responsibility for success rests on the project champion, whose work will help MnDOT turn proven concepts into useful practices and procedures that make the state’s transportation system better.

“The research implementation program fills the gap between research and deployment of new methods, materials and equipment,” Holdhusen said. “There is a section of the implementation plan that commits MnDOT to further steps toward full deployment after the implementation phase is complete, and a section on how it will be communicated to the practitioners who will use the innovation.”

The following is a list of the 12 newly funded research implementation projects by category:
Bridge and Structures


Maintenance Operations

Materials and Construction

Policy and Planning

Traffic and Safety

Do you have a transportation problem that needs solving? MnDOT Research Services is currently soliciting proposals for the next cycle of research projects. The deadline to submit a short summary of your research idea on MnDOT’s research collaboration website is May 16.


Recycling retrofit planned for state agencies

By Judy Jacobs

Photo of recycling bin.

Example of a desk-side recycling bin with the trash sidecar. Photo courtesy of Jackie Klein

In 2014 the Minnesota Legislature expanded the State Government Resource Recovery statute to require recycling and tracking of recycling in Greater Minnesota. For MnDOT that change means tracking recyclables generated at all MnDOT facilities, including headquarters buildings, truck stations, rest areas and weigh stations. 

The revised statute requires all state agencies to report recycling rates by March 1 annually. State-owned facilities in the Twin Cities area must recycle 60 percent of solid waste, or higher, if their county goal is greater than 60 percent. State-owned facilities in Greater Minnesota must also reach the 60 percent recycling goal. If agencies cannot meet their goals, they must report their recycling rate, educate employees about recycling opportunities and expectations, and notify the Pollution Control Agency about how they attempted to meet statewide recycling goals. Agencies in the Twin Cities will be expected to reach a statewide goal of 75 percent by 2030.   

In 2015, the Office Environmental Stewardship joined a group of other state agency representatives to share lessons learned and collaborate on recycling challenges that faced multiple state agencies. The first step was to identify potential challenges to compliance. The team began a pilot project at three locations: District 7/Mankato headquarters and its LeSueur truck station, and Metro District’s Waters Edge building. District representatives looked at the materials being recycled and the availability of recycling haulers and tried to identify any potential obstacles to recycling collection, hauling, pickup or tracking and reporting. These pilot projects were completed in early March. The results will help district waste coordinators comply with the state law.

Desk-side pickup changes begin in May
In early May employees working at the Capitol Complex will see major changes to waste pickup. The Department of Administration will replace desk-side garbage pickup with desk-side recycling. The goal is to reduce collection efforts since clean recyclables won’t be picked up on a daily basis. Centralized garbage disposal bins will be located on each floor.

The Department of Administration is offering MnDOT recycling bins at no charge. District offices are encouraged to contact Jackie Klein, Office Environmental Stewardship, for a list of available bins.

“It is our responsibility to implement the executive order across the state,” said Klein. “We need someone from each district and office to be the designated contact for this program.”

If interested, contact Klein at 651-366-3637.
Currently many MnDOT facilities are already reporting recycling data to MPCA. The overall recycling rate is not confirmed, but is believed to be less than 60 percent. Greater Minnesota facilities do not currently track or report recycling data.  

“MnDOT has the unique position of having facilities across the state,” Klein said.  “This is a great opportunity for us to be more aware of what we are throwing away and how much of that really could be recycled.”


Employees recognized during District 8 Employee Training Day

Photo of Jon Huseby in front of District 8 Employee Meeting.

Jon Huseby, District 8 engineer, recognizes employees for their years of service during the District 8 Employee Training Day April 20. Photo by Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt


What’s new on the web

By Laurel Janisch, Customer Relations

Screen capture of the Customer Response Management webpage.

Customer Response Management tracks customer emails received from the MnDOT website.

Who recieves all those emails from MnDOT customers?

Did you know that over the course of a year, MnDOT receives more than 4,000 emails and phone calls requesting information, sharing comments or simply venting?

Customer Response Management is MnDOT’s means to track and manage statewide customer emails received from the website at It helps to provide a timely response to customers, improve consistent communication and prevent duplicate responses.

CRM also helps to identify emerging issues and possible changes, additions and/or modifications in services. MnDOT has been using the software CorrFlow for the past four years to assist in doing all of the above. 

From the unsolicited feedback, a certain cross-section of the public expects roads that are clear, bare, dry and smooth, regardless of when snow storms occur. In addition, they look to 511 to be updated in nearly real-time and to accurately communicate upcoming closures, provide detour routes, and reflect driving conditions through construction zones as dynamic as the conditions change. But quite a few compliments come in, too. A recent one, for example, described a FIRST driver as an “angel.” 
It’s important to note that when MnDOT conducts market research, using a representative sample of the public, the resulting feedback about MnDOT’s communications and snow and ice services shows high satisfaction levels. It’s clear the majority of Minnesotans trust that MnDOT is working on their behalf.

To see a report of the comments MnDOT received during the third and fourth quarters of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, go to A-Z on the iHUB under Customer Relations, Customer Correspondence, and then reports.


Guest column: Could Flint, Mich., happen here?

Note from Commissioner Charlie Zelle: I want to share with you this message that my colleague, Commissioner John Linc Stine, recently sent to his employees at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is thoughtful, insightful and applicable to all of us who work in state government. Although it uses the Flint, Mich., water crisis as a starting point, this essay is really a call to action for government employees in all fields and at all levels. It asks us to examine our professional practices, to be “open and engaged,” responsive and transparent, to the public we serve. I’d be interested in hearing any feedback you have.

By John Linc Stine, Commissioner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Photo of John Linc Stine.

John Linc Stine is the commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency


The name of a once great American city is now synonymous with environmental catastrophe, and a failure of government. 

I was really struck last week when reading a report on the Flint water crisis. The first line of the executive summary reads:
“The Flint water crisis is a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice.”

As if that wasn’t striking enough, this line references the two government agencies most responsible for protecting the drinking water:

“…stubbornly worked to discredit and dismiss others’ attempts to bring the issues of unsafe water, lead contamination, and increased cases of Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease) to light.”

I recommend everyone read this report. It describes unimaginable lapses in Michigan's governmental system of checks and balances. It also describes active belligerence in minimizing community public health risks by Michigan state government agencies. Yes, “active belligerence” from government officials.

Over the last few months, the public, elected officials and journalists have been asking Minnesota government officials the obvious question, “Could it happen here?” As much as I believe we have a better system here, the honest answer is, Flint could happen anywhere.

It’s a cliché to call this a teachable moment, yet if ever there were a moment for us all to take heed, learn a lesson with humility, and openly look at how we fight to protect human health and the environment, then now is that time.

We in Minnesota state government pride ourselves in being better - better at health protection, environmental and public health science, regulation and transparency. As I ponder this report and our performance across state government in Minnesota, I am compelled to renew my own commitment to excellence in governance... 

When we hear concerns or criticism from outside the agency for the work that we do, unfair or otherwise, we must resist the natural tendency to become defensive or to disengage from public concerns or frustrations. Quite the contrary, I want us to remain open and engaged and squarely address criticism and concerns as they’re expressed. Alternately, it is imperative that we continue to consider the timeliness of decisions, so we do not become trapped in analytical paralysis.

I am fortunate to work with so many dedicated public servants. My desire is that our team grows stronger through increased transparency and accountability; it can only help us fulfill our mission of protecting and restoring the environment and enhancing human health.

Surely we are all speculating about how and why Flint happened. What I know is that Flint is both unimaginable, and unacceptable. 

I suggest that for all of us the more constructive question is, “Am I doing everything possible to protect human health and the environment in my work?”

The full report is at:

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