March 13, 2019
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Commissioner takes transportation budget message on the road

By Emma Olson, District 4 public affairs coordinator

Commissioner Anderson Kelliher speaking to reporters at news conference with Moorhead mayor and fire chief at her side.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher was joined by Mayor Jonathan Judd and Fire Chief Rich Duysen at a news conference March 5 in Moorhead covering Gov. Tim Walz’s transportation budget proposal. Anderson Kelliher explained the proposal, what it means to transportation and its positive impact on communities in Greater Minnesota, including the grade separation project in downtown Moorhead. In addition to the commissioner’s remarks, Moorhead officials provided more information on the local benefits of the grade separation project, including improvements to mobility, emergency response times and economic development for the city of Moorhead. Photo by Kevin Gutknecht

Partnership with high school yields parts for MnDOT snowplows

By Sue Roe               

4 students in a metal workshop fabricating parts

St. Francis High School students work in the industrial technology classroom to machine and fabricate components for MnDOT snowplows. Photo by Erik Trost

MnDOT contracts with many vendors across the state to purchase the components needed to build new snowplows and help maintain the more than 800 trucks already on the road statewide. Central Shop mechanics work year-round to fabricate 57 trucks annually. One of the newest and most unique vendors MnDOT uses is Saints Manufacturing, a student-run business at St. Francis High School.

The 18 industrial technology students started making components for MnDOT in fall 2018. Since then, they’ve machined and fabricated hundreds of parts, ranging from bolts and pins to poles and pulleys.

“Everything we need is custom-made for our trucks,” said Brian McDonald, transportation materials supervisor. “We’re saving money and that’s a benefit to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the students are learning and thinking outside the box.”

Erik Trost is the industrial technology instructor whose shop includes much of the same equipment found in any modern machining and fabrication shop. The equipment includes lathes, mills, CNC mill, plasma cutters, and tig and mig welders. Much of the equipment was donated or purchased with cash donations from local industry.

“Without the help of industry, Saints Manufacturing couldn’t exist,” Trost said. “The community, the industry and the school board supports the program.”

2 men standing in high school metal workshop

Erik Trost, left, St. Francis High School industrial technology instructor, and Brian McDonald, MnDOT transportation materials supervisor, work together to get snowplow components produced by students for MnDOT. Photo courtesy of St. Francis High School

The work for MnDOT started out slow, but the partnership between Saints Manufacturing and MnDOT and the business model worked so well that MnDOT now shares its CAD drawings with students so they can order the parts and quote prices, much like MnDOT does with any vendor.

“Erik is very meticulous and he wants the students to learn every aspect of the business,” McDonald said. “His focus is on teaching real-world skills so his students are prepared for a career or further technical training.”

One student keeps the company’s books, generates quotes and invoices and is in charge of the company’s Facebook page and email account. Another student is the product manager who handles the work flow between the fabrication side and the welding side of the business.

“MnDOT has made a huge impact on this program,” Trost said. “They’ve stretched the students’ capabilities. It’s forced our hand to branch out to work with different pieces of equipment and business processes. We’ve not done packing slips before, so we learned how to do them. We’ve never had to quote a machine job before, so we learned that.”

Students are learning the technical and business aspects of the job, including the soft skills, such as meeting deadlines and getting to class on time. They also are providing MnDOT with a valuable service, McDonald said.

“It’s benefitting the taxpayers because the labor is less than other vendors, and students are learning valuable skills they can use throughout their lives. The students are doing very well, especially considering they work for one hour a day five days a week. We plan to continue to grow this program and perhaps find ways to replicate it with other non-traditional vendors,” he said.

The larger components of the plow trucks still go to other vendors, but Trost said funding from a recent bond issue will go toward remodeling the metals shop that will double the available square footage. That expansion could allow Saints Manufacturing to do more MnDOT work in the future.

“Students are learning that we’re making real parts for the real world, where quality matters. When we have material to make slide poles and we know the material is $25 per foot and we make a mistake on a part that is three feet long, that’s a $75 mistake,” said Trost. “We’re sending parts out the door that are the same as from any fabrication shop. In an industry that is asking for skilled people, we’re here for the long haul. Our students’ work speaks for itself.”


Red Wing Bridge crews work 24-hour shifts to beat anticipated rising of Mississippi River

By Mike Dougherty, District 6 public engagement and communications director

Yellow construction cranes lift tub girders during night installation at Red Wing Bridge.

Crews install tub girders at the Hwy 63/Eisenhower Bridge in Red Wing on March 12 to get ahead of the rising water levels of the Mississippi River that the National Weather Service is predicting will occur due to melting snow and forecasted heavy rains. Photo by Andy Fritz

While maintenance crews statewide are still needed to handle Minnesota's unending winter of 2018-19, work is already underway for the state's “other season.”

In Red Wing, for example, construction crews building the new Hwy 63/ Eisenhower Bridge in Red Wing will be working 24 hours daily to set tub girders in advance of the rising Mississippi River levels that the National Weather Service is forecasting. Project staff are planning to complete this work by the weekend of March 23-24.

Zenith Tech, Inc., the project contractor, will be working around-the-clock to set tub girders for pier 2 (the Mississippi River navigation channel) and pier 3 (Wisconsin side). Work shifts are planned Monday through Friday but weekend work could be added depending on progress and weather.

The work is not expected to affect Hwy 63 traffic using the river bridge.

The $63.4 million construction project includes building a new bridge to replace the Hwy 63/Eisenhower Bridge, replacing the historic slip ramp Hwy 63 Bridge over Hwy 61, reconstructing approach roadways in Minnesota and Wisconsin, improving access to Red Wing and upgrading pedestrian and bicyclist crossings. 

Traffic on the new bridge is expected by fall 2019.

Learn more about the project or sign up for email updates at MnDOT’s project website Follow this project on Facebook at


African-American Employee Resource Group hosts conversation on belonging

2 men sitting in chairs talking

Richard Davis (foreground), Public Engagement & Constituent Services director and champion of MnDOT's African-American Employee Resource Group, served as moderator for “Belonging—A Conversation with Mr. Greg Johnson,” at the AAERG lunch and learn event Feb. 27.

Johnson (right), WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff vice president, is a professional engineer with more than 35 years of transportation experience ranging from project level success tactics and oversight to executive level strategy and technical direction. He provided insights from his professional journey as an African-American hoping to find a sense of belonging in the engineering field, and to be accepted as a top leader of the organization in the transportation sector. He also provided thoughts on how leaders can create an environment of belonging where employees feel engaged and diverse perspectives are valued.

If you missed the event, you can view it on the Employee Resource Group iHUB webpage. Photo by Rich Kemp


Workshop focuses on 'Voice of the Customer,' recognizes exemplar public engagement projects

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Ombudsman panel of 2 men and 1 woman, facilitated by man standing at lectern

Jim Skoog, MnDOT ombudsman, led a panel discussion of external constituents he had worked with on issues ranging from Maple Grove noise walls to Reconnect Rondo to the Red Wing Bridge and Hwy 22 Victory Drive. From left are Skoog, Marvin Anderson, Debra Sisneros and Dean Chamberlain. Photo by Kristi Loobeek

The Office of Public Engagement and Constituent Services hosted its third annual workshop March 7 at the University of Minnesota, focusing on building customer trust by listening to the public. More than 130 MnDOT employees statewide attended the workshop, which included panel discussions, district spotlights and recognition of the agency’s best public engagement efforts during 2017-18.

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher provided opening remarks, highlighting the importance of building personal relationships with communities.  

Keynote speaker Jeff Aguy, who also spoke at MnDOT’s 2018 Engagement Workshop, presented on “We Should All Be Human-Centered Designers.” Aguy is the program director for St. Paul-based, Lunar Startups. His presentation stressed the importance of engaging with ourselves as well as others and celebrating the “secret sauce in all of us.”

“MnDOT has made great strides towards becoming a customer-centered agency,” said Richard Davis, Public Engagement and Constituent Services director. “By highlighting the voice of the customer while also recognizing exceptional engagement work across the state, this year’s workshop was designed to be a tangible reminder that public engagement is central to the organization’s continued success.”

Rhonda Allis

Ronda Allis, District 7 planning director, accepts the Ongoing Engagement award for the district’s pre-scoping outreach efforts to build relationships, gain insights and reduce scope changes. Photo by Kristi Loobeek

The following projects were recognized in these six categories:

Creativity and Innovation—35W@94: Downtown to Crosstown, Metro District

Respect for Diversity, Inclusion and Culture—Willmar Wye Project, District 8

Best Engagement for a Small/Medium Project—Mini-roundabouts: Highway 4 St. James, District 7

Best Engagement for a Major Project—35W@94: Downtown to Crosstown, Metro District, and Red Wing Bridge, District 6

Ongoing EngagementPre-scoping Outreach, District 7, and Airports are Part of MnDOT Too, Office of Aeronautics

Commissioner’s Award for Public Engagement—Charlie Zelle, MnDOT Commissioner (2013-2018)

The workshop also highlighted districts for various problem-solving methods they initiated to address challenges in exercising public engagement efforts. The audience also heard about lessons learned, both pre-project and as the project developed.

The workshop agenda, public engagement awards brochure and other information are available at:


Agency leaders receive training in tools, concepts
for FY 2020-21 business plans

Seven seated people listen to two trainers. Two screens at front of room display info in a table format.

Brian McLafferty (standing) and Gabe Perkins (far right), Office of Organizational Planning and Management, provided business plan training last week to staff from the offices of Transportation System Management and Research and Innovation. OPM is conducting the training sessions agency-wide to help managers and supervisors become familiar with the concepts and tools needed to develop a business plan for the FY 2020-21 biennium. To date, 334 employees have received training through almost 30 training sessions. Training continues through late March. Photo by Rich Kemp    

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