Oct. 19, 2016
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Training program prepares state, local snowplow operators for winter

By Rich Kemp

Video More than 1,500 state snowplow operators clear 30,000 lane miles of state highway each winter to ensure that motorists can get to where they want to go. It all begins with training, which attracts about 200 state and local plow drivers each fall at Camp Ripley for two weeks of intensive classroom and in-the-plow work. MnDOT has operated the snowplow operator training program since 2004.



November is peak month for deer-vehicle crashes; MnDOT works to reduce wildlife crossing roadways

Close-up of a man-made wildlife path under a bridge.

To help deer and other wildlife stay off the roadways, MnDOT uses gravel “passage benches” on most of its river bridge projects. The passage bench is incorporated into bridge riprap and serves to mimic game trails. Wildlife can pass beneath bridges uninterrupted as they travel along the streambank. Photo by Peter Leete

By Sue Roe

Minnesota motorists have a one in 80 chance of hitting a deer this year. That’s the report from State Farm Insurance, which compiles an annual list of the states where drivers are most likely to hit a deer, moose or elk.

The state is ranked seventh on the “2016 Likelihood of Collision with Deer” list. Motorists in the state face double the national average odds of hitting a deer and the odds are even greater in November, the peak month for deer-vehicle crashes.

“The main reason for the increase in vehicle crashes is that the deer mating season occurs in November. Increased deer movement coupled with a reduction in daylight hours, increase drivers’ chances of encountering deer on roadways,” said Chris Smith, wildlife ecologist in the Office of Environmental Stewardship.

Deer are more likely to be encountered in areas where habitat is close to the roadway, such as a bridge crossing over waterways, and during the early morning and evening hours when deer are most active.

To help deer and other wildlife stay off the roadways, MnDOT uses gravel “passage benches” on most of its river bridge projects. The passage bench is incorporated into bridge riprap and serves to mimic game trails. Wildlife can pass beneath bridges uninterrupted as they travel along the streambank.

“MnDOT has incorporated passage benches into their traditional riprap protection on river bridge projects since 2005, and it became a standard design feature at all river bridges in 2011,” said Peter Leete, transportation hydrologist and Department of Natural Resources/MnDOT liaison. “Observations and scientific studies have shown this feature is used successfully by wildlife, while at the same time provides additional benefits of road safety.”

In 2009, MnDOT funded a two-year study of the passage bench as a wildlife underpass. Researchers collected data at three locations in northern Minnesota. The study showed 17 different vertebrate species using the benches including black bear, fox, bobcat and deer. Humans also used the crossings.

If the passage benches are not feasible on a structure, MnDOT is experimenting with using “small animal fill” to plug in the large voids typical of riprap so that large and small wildlife can better travel areas where riprap is used.

Leete said MnDOT is also working to develop standard specifications for wildlife fencing to prevent wildlife crossings in areas where vehicle collisions are known to be an issue. Fencing will redirect wildlife to safe areas to cross such as under bridges and box culverts.

Leete’s work as liaison between MnDOT and DNR is part of a broader partnership that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and academic groups. The partnership explores the link between transportation systems and the environments they are connected to and works toward a more ecological approach to transportation planning and construction.

Driving defensively is key to avoiding deer-vehicle collisions

From 2013 to 2015, there were 6,149 reported deer-vehicle crashes, according to the Department of Public Safety. There were 15 fatalities and 986 injury crashes. Crashes were reported in every county in the state. 
How to avoid hitting a deer:

  • Be particularly alert in the fall and spring. More than half of the crashes happen in November when deer are mating, and in May and June during the birthing season.
  • Be vigilant at dusk and at dawn. A high percentage of crashes occur during the low-light or dark hours of the day when deer move between daytime bedding sites and evening feeding areas.
  • Slow down and scan the sides of the road and ditches for animals when driving through forested lands or near river and stream banks. Especially drive with caution in marked deer-crossing zones and along roads surrounded by farmland or forests.
  • Drive defensively and expect the unexpected. If you see a deer near the road, slow down because it might dart in front of you. If you see one deer, look for the next one. Deer often travel together but in single file.
  • Don't swerve. While it may seem like the right thing to do, swerving to avoid a deer could cause you to lose control or travel into the path of another vehicle. Striking a deer is safer than colliding with another vehicle or a tree. Stay in your lane, brake firmly and hold onto the steering wheel.

Indigenous Employee Resource Group speaker spotlights growing, harvesting wild rice

By Rich Kemp

Paul Rice demonstrates use of wood sticks to harvest wild rice. Sign language interpreter is in background.

Paul Rice, Eden Prairie truck station, demonstrates the use of knockers to harvest wild rice during a presentation Oct. 6 on wild rice and the environment. Photo by Rich Kemp

During a Lunch and Learn event Oct. 6, Paul Rice discussed how wild rice is grown in Minnesota’s state waters, how rice is regulated and the importance of it being harvested in the traditional way.

During the Wild Rice and the Environment presentation, Rice, heavy equipment mechanic at the Eden Prairie Truck Station, talked about how his family has been wild ricing for several generations. He learned the process from his grandfather. He said wild rice is the staple diet of the natives to this region.

Rice and several members of his family spend a few weeks in the fall harvesting wild rice. During his presentation, Rice demonstrated some of the equipment that is used during the process.

“It’s enjoyable,” said Rice, a member of the MnDOT Indigenous Employee Resource Group. “It brings us back to nature. We try to introduce the younger generation to ricing.”

He also discussed the environmental concerns with wild rice plants. He said the biggest threats are bad storms, boat traffic, invasive species and climate change.

For more information about MnDOT's Employee Resource Groups, visit iHUB.


What’s new on the web

New Library Materials

New Library Materials are available at Check it out and find out what MnDOT Library is up to in this issue.

New Library Materials is a compilation of new titles and other resources added to the library collection during the previous month. If you would like to be added to the distribution list, contact Pam Gonzalez at 651-366-3749.  

Previous editions of New Library Materials are available at

For other information requests, contact the Library at 651-366-3791 or email, or send requests via the Ask a Librarian Web page at


Employees recall 1991 Halloween blizzard

By Dana Hernandez

Black and white photo of woman cross-country skiing down the street after the 1991 Halloween blizzard. Eight other people are seen walking in the opposite direction.

This photo appeared on the front page of Mn/DOT Express, the employee newsletter, in December 1991: Allyson Hartle, policy analyst, Commissioner’s Office, finds a new “mode” to get to work the morning
following the megastorm. She skied the two miles from her home. Photo by J. Oden, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Ghosts and ghouls, witches and spells, jack-o’-lanterns and… a mega snowstorm?  

That’s correct—it’s the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard that surpassed all others in Minnesota. Snow fell from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, reaching 28.4 inches in the Twin Cities and 36.9 inches in Duluth. The Department of Natural Resources lists it as number one among the “Top Twenty Snowfalls in Twin Cities History” from 1891-2016.

The storm tested the skills and endurance of MnDOT employees who were deployed statewide in efforts to clear roads of snow and ice.

According to the Star Tribune, there were close to 1,000 traffic crashes and many vehicles stranded on roadsides. Buses couldn’t finish their routes and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was shut down for some time on the night of the storm. Stretches of highway were closed, such as Interstate 90 from Albert Lea to South Dakota. About 900 schools and businesses never opened as the snow kept falling. AAA was able to respond to only about half of the 1,500 emergency calls it received.

MnDOT was prepared for a typical snow and ice season, employees told the Star Tribune in 1991, but the amount of snow was “overwhelming” to keep up with. In the “Mn/DOT Express” newsletter from 1991 a state maintenance engineer said the agency spent $6 million for overtime, sand, salt and rented equipment.

“There was never a snowstorm quite like that one,” said Dean Blomgren, Metro Camden Truck Station snowplow operator. “I hadn’t seen it snow a couple of inches an hour before.”

Blomgren recalls working 42 hours in a 50-hour time frame during the storm. This wasn’t uncommon—he said he knows others who worked long hours, too. At one point during the blizzard, he remembers speaking with a highway patrolman who worked for “18 to 20 hours and didn’t have plans to go home any time soon.” Blomgren called this storm the “total exception to all the rules.”

Despite the ferocity of what was possibly the greatest snow storm in Minnesota history, he still finds snow fun, making his job enjoyable.

“I don’t know what I’ll do when I can’t drive a snowplow anymore,” said Blomgren, after laughing about never wanting to retire. He is celebrating his 47th year as a snowplow operator.

Jerry Eggert

Jerry Eggert, now District 8/Hutchinson region field operations supervisor, was working at the District 8/Glencoe truck station when the Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 1991 blizzard hit. He said crews in his area worked 14- to 16-hour shifts during this time. Photo courtesy of District 8

Jerry Eggert, District 8/Hutchinson region field operations supervisor, was working in maintenance at the Glencoe Truck Station in District 8 for about seven years when the Halloween blizzard hit.

“That was probably my first big snow storm. I was working on Hwy 212 and we were somewhat taken by surprise. The snow was heavy and wet—it was tough,” he said.

Eggert said they weren’t expecting as much snow as they received during the blizzard and that “it was a lot to comprehend.” Those working in his area also covered long shifts, lasting from 14 to 16 hours.

Both Blomgren and Eggert agree that there have been advancements in snowplow technology in the past two decades.

Blomgren said plows now have “more wings on them than they did back then,” and he finds that “dual spinners on the plows” used now are helpful.

He also estimated that about “a third of the trucks didn’t have radios” when he started as a snowplow operator in 1969.

Today, communication is much easier.

“Radio systems now have their own channels in each station. Regional channels allow you to connect with your respective stations so you can hear about what’s going on in your area. You don’t talk over everyone else this way. It’s improved leaps and bounds,” he said.

Eggert said that the trucks from 1991 were all levers and knobs on the inside. Today, there are touch screens that make operating a snowplow easier.

If MnDOT had this technology during the 1991 Halloween blizzard, Eggert said, “Things may have been cleared up a little faster. Our engines are bigger and our equipment has definitely improved.”

Jed Falgren, District 7/Mankato area maintenance engineer, was a graduate engineer working in Mankato construction at the time of the Halloween blizzard.

He wasn’t a snowplow operator, but subarea supervisors encouraged him and his coworkers to be aware of snow traps and to think about what could be done to eliminate snow drifts in particular areas. He accepted an invitation for a ride-along that night because no construction would be going on.

“This short ride-along turned into an all-day event,” said Falgren.

He worked on Hwy 14, west of Mankato, and Hwy 169 and Hwy 60, south of Mankato, for half of the day. For the latter part of his ride-along, he worked east of Eagle Lake in an area with low visibility helping to rescue trapped motorists.

“There were dozens of cars, some semis and even two snowplows stuck out there,” said Falgren.
What he remembers most about the 1991 Halloween blizzard is the respect he gained for maintenance workers.

“These people really knew what they were doing. I saw the efforts MnDOT crews go through fighting these storms, facing the unknowns and operating this intimidating and heavy piece of equipment with limited visibility,” said Falgren. “I have supervised maintenance for the last four years and I have respect for the employees I work with.”

10 maintenance men in conference room

Twenty-five years after plowing out southern Minnesota during and after the Halloween blizzard of 1991, these men from District 7 are still keeping a watchful eye on the roads in their part of the state. The group met Oct. 20 in Mankato as part of the district's snow and ice season kickoff. From left are Fran Bigaouette, Bruce Buckentin, Brian Derner, Steve Hoffman, Tony Desantiago, Myron Hentges, David Weber, Jack Ziegler, Gary Genelin and Jed Falgren. Photo courtesy of District 7


MnDOT named company of the year for data management

By Sue Roe

One man, four women pose in an empty room after receiving their award for records management.

MnDOT employees who presented information at the ARMA October meeting are, from left: Charles Stech, Angela Boardman, Carol Magurany Brotski, Liz Harens and Jennifer Witt. Photo by Kaitlyn Williams, ARMA

MnDOT was named company of the year by the Twin Cities’ Chapter of the American Records Management Association for its efforts in the creation, use, retention and disposal of information that documents the agency.

ARMA is an international organization on managing records and information at all levels of business. Jennifer Witt, records and information manager in the Office of Chief Counsel, nominated MnDOT for the award.

“The award recognizes the good job that MnDOT does in record management and the extra effort for doing it in a way that others can learn from,” Witt said. “We have a duty to preserve records and other information that shows business processes and decisions but it’s important we don’t keep that information beyond the correct retention period or information that is redundant, obsolete or trivial.”

Witt said MnDOT was honored for devoting its time and resources toward data management in four ways:

  • Data Business Plan – In 2008, MnDOT started a data business planning process to better align business needs and investments that could be made to sustain and enhance data programs and information systems. A Business Information Council was established to oversee development of a data business plan designed to access the current state of data at MnDOT and identify gaps and strengthen principles and processes for data governance.
  • Business Data Catalog – An online catalog of reliable, trusted metadata about MnDOT’s information assets. It helps employees search for and locate data, understand data definitions and business terminology, assemble and share data and obtain correct information.
  • Records Management/Records Retention Schedule Update – The department offered trainings on records lifecycle and retention schedule. The training included the first year of the all agency Data Clean Up Week. Employees lowered MnDOT’s data storage costs by deleting old data. The agency dropped nearly 10 percent of their overall shared drive space. This represents an annual savings of $61,454.
  • Data Management Consortium – Managers and coordinators representing different aspects of MnDOT work to improve applications and business processes.  

Several MnDOT employees presented information at the October ARMA meeting in St. Paul. Employees were Witt and Charles Stech from the Records Management/Office of Chief Counsel; Angela Boardman, Transportation Planning; Carol Magurany-Brotski, Emergency Management; and Liz Harens, Technology Investment Management.

“This award reflects the hard work done by many people who are committed to better record and information management,” said Betsy Parker, Office of Chief Counsel.

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