July 10, 2019
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Red, yellow, green: MnDOT marks 50 years of freeway ramp metering

By Joseph Palmersheim

Black and white photograph showing an old car waiting to enter the freeway. The sign next to the car says wait here for green light

This picture from the October 1969 issue of the Highway Department's "Minnesota Highways" newsletter shows what MnDOT's first freeway ramp meters looked like. The ramps were tested during a two-week window in the summer of 1969 on I-35E between County Road B and downtown St. Paul. File photo

It’s a “pause” for celebration.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of MnDOT’s first use of freeway ramp meters. The initial two-week test in 1969 deployed meters on southbound Interstate 35E at Maryland Avenue, Wheelock Parkway and Roselawn Avenue. Now, a half-century later, there are more than 460 freeway ramp meters throughout the Twin Cities metro area.

“MnDOT was an early adopter of this technology,” said Brian Kary, director of traffic operations at the Regional Transportation Management Center. “The first was Chicago in 1963. Los Angeles did it in 1967. We were one of the first cities out there that were doing it.”

Ramp meters serve an important function by relieving congestion on the freeway, Kary said. They reduce mainline congestion while ensuring wait times are no longer than four minutes per vehicle on local ramps and two minutes per vehicle on freeway-to-freeway ramps. While the first meters operated using timers, newer meters can respond to real-time conditions and operate only when needed. Metering rates will update every 30-seconds based on traffic data.

“Ramp metering intends to keep the mainline flowing at 45 mph or better,” Kary said. “People sometimes complain – ‘Why am I sitting here at the meter when there is no congestion?’ The reason there is no congestion is the metering is working. Metering improves the efficiency of the mainline by keeping traffic moving, which improves freeway capacity and reduces crashes.”

An article in the October 1969 issue of Minnesota Highways, the then-Highway Department’s employee newsletter, described the initial test carried out during peak morning-hour traffic. Traffic volumes and times on the section of freeway were recorded, along with those from three alternate routes for comparison. Aerial photographs from one of the Highway Department’s airplanes were also used.

“Preliminary analysis of the data confirms … that the quality of traffic flow had been improved during the metering operation,” according to the article.

Glen Carlson, who retired from MnDOT in 2003, served as the first director of the Traffic Management Center. He recalled that the first test timers were pre-timed by hand. The feedback for correction was as simple as adjusting the algorithm after seeing traffic stop three miles down the line from the ramp meter.

“The human brain was the computer on that first project,” he said.

MnDOT installed the first permanent ramp meters in October 1970 on southbound I-35E at Maryland and Wheelock, and on southbound I-35W at 31st and 36th streets in Minneapolis. The original Traffic Management Center opened in 1972 in downtown Minneapolis at the corner of 11th Street and 4th Avenue. These days, the Regional Transportation Management Center operates out of Water’s Edge in Roseville. The newer facility, shared by MnDOT and the Department of Public Safety, opened in 2003.

So what happens without meters? A bill passed by the Legislature in 2000 required MnDOT to do a shutdown study of the ramp meters for a six-week period. When meters shut down in in October 2000, freeway capacity decreased by 9 percent, travel times increased by 22 percent, freeway speeds dropped by 7 percent and crashes increased by 26 percent.

“Turning them off seemed to prove the point that they worked,” Carlson said.

MnDOT currently operates 461 ramp meters. Kary said the system “grew quite a bit” in the 1990s, going from around 100 meters in the 1980s to close to 400 by the end of the next decade.

“Now, only Los Angeles has more ramp meters than we do, with more than 1,000,” Kary said. “We were an early adopter of this technology, and we continue to be a leader.”

Carlson, who worked at MnDOT as a student worker in 1956 before joining full time in 1964, looks back on the ramps with satisfaction.

“I felt they’ve done a lot of good,” he said. “Studies showed we prevented a lot of crashes, and the freeways can carry a little higher volume.”


Project profile: Concrete, pavement and a whole lot of elbow grease in Elbow Lake

By Emma Olson, District 4 public affairs coordinator

Two crew members watch an excavator dig on a torn up road site near buildings on highway 55

Concrete crews pour new sidewalks, curbs and gutters on the east side of Hwy 55. Photo by Emma Olson

District 4 is nearing completion of the construction project on Hwys 55, 59 and 79 in Elbow Lake.

The work includes resurfacing all three highways, replacing the medians on Hwys 59 and 79, partially reconstructing Hwy 55 for ADA accessibility and storm sewer upgrades, making sidewalk improvements and installing new lighting.

In addition to weekly project emails, updates in the newspaper and public information meetings, the district hired a business liaison as part of the communication and engagement plan.

“We’ve had a lot of success using business liaisons in the past, most recently last year during the Glenwood complete streets project,” said Project Manager Lori Vanderhider. “The individual hired by the contractor for that work is often well connected and lives and works in the community, making them a credible on-site resource for residents and businesses.”

All the efforts appear to be working too, as MnDOT and the contractor agreed to cancel the scheduled weekly public meetings due to low (zero) attendance.

“No news is good news in this situation,” Vanderhider said. “There have been very few complaints, and anything that’s come up has been handled quickly by MnDOT or the contractor. The community has been very understanding of the work. They know there’s an end in sight.”

Benefits of the $2.6 million project include a smoother road surface, and increased safety and mobility for pedestrians and motorists. Crews expect to wrap up by mid-July.

For more information about the project, visit the Elbow Lake project website.



Winona Bridge opens to traffic with speeches, music and poetry

By Mike Dougherty, District 6 communications and public engagement director

Minnesota governor Tim Walz speaking at a podium with the bridge in the background

Gov. Tim Walz speaking at the July 1 opening of the historic Hwy 43 through-truss bridge in Winona. Photo by Kevin Gutknecht

Tthe historic Hwy 43 through-truss bridge reopened with the snip of a ribbon on July 1.

About 150 people turned out for the midday ribbon-cutting celebration on the Mississippi River bridge with Gov. Tim Walz leading the list of speakers who marked the day. The ceremony opened with a presentation of the colors by American Legion Post 9 and the Cotter School Brass Quintet performing the national anthem.

The $145.9 million project broke ground in July 2014. The new bridge, upriver from the existing 1942-era bridge, opened to traffic in August 2016. Traffic to the older through-truss bridge closed in early September 2016.

“This is what I mean when I talk about 'One Minnesota,'” Walz said. “This bridge is not only about the economy of Winona, but the economy of Worthington and Warroad. This is the expectation that people have on how local government is supposed to work.”

Winona Mayor Mark Peterson emceed the event and offered his praise.

“There have been challenging discussions, sometimes heated, but always because of the passion behind those views,” he said. “What is remarkable, and I think laudatory, is that we are all here celebrating a momentous day. It shows how everyone can work together for the public good. A bridge is a wonderful symbol of that spirit.”

A photograph of two bridges crossing a river. The one on the right is older.

New and old: The new bridge on the left opened to traffic in August 2016. Traffic to the older through-truss bridge closed in early September 2016 so the structure could be rehabbed. Photo by Kevin Gutknecht

First District U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn recounted the history of transportation on the river in Winona and said this project adds another chapter. State Reps. Jeremy Miller and Gene Pelowski, both of Winona, talked about the discussions and debates that led to the project and applauded the teamwork that finished it. Peterson said the project blended the old with the new.

“We have a new crossing for commuters and commerce in our community, which also connects our trails for people and bicycles,” Peterson said. “Underneath we have a new plaza area that will bring our community together for many types of events and gatherings.”

Amy Spong, deputy state historic preservation officer, talked about the bridge’s importance. Former Winona poet laureate Ken McCullough reinforced Spong’s words with a reading a poem written for the occasion. The poem ended with: “Thanks to those of us who worked together to preserve this bridge to our heritage. Now, we’ll always smile when we see her and flush with pride when we cross her span.”



New engineers to lead Districts 2, 3, 4

By Joseph Palmersheim

Several MnDOT districts will have new district engineers on July 15.

Picture of Shiloh Wahl

Shiloh Wahl. Photo by Bryan Christensen

Shiloh Wahl

After spending the last year as the acting district engineer in District 4, Shiloh Wahl will soon remove the word “acting” from his job title.

The new District 4 district engineer started with MnDOT in 2000 after graduating the year before from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology with a civil engineering degree. Wahl has served as a project engineer in construction, including work on the Hwy 336 project near Moorhead and the Hwy 10 “Connect Detroit Lakes” project. 

He also served as the District 4 planning director and as the assistant district engineer in program development.  Wahl has been leading District 4 as the acting district engineer for the past year.


Picture of Mike Ginnaty

Mike Ginnaty. Photo by Rich Kemp

Mike Ginnaty

Thirty-year MnDOT veteran Mike Ginnaty is the new district engineer for District 3.

Ginnaty graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1984, and started his MnDOT career in Metro District design five years later. He has worked in District 4 for 25 years in a variety of areas.

These include design, design automation, geographical information systems, bridge maintenance, construction, pre-design, hydraulics, surveys, right of way and planning.

He has also held leadership roles in the areas of project scoping and cost management, the Office of Project Management and Technical Support, Shared Services and in Bemidji as the acting district engineer.

Most recently, he has served as the portfolio manager for the operations division for the past nine months.


Photo of J.T. Anderson

J.T. Anderson. Photo courtesy of District 2

J.T. Anderson

New District 2 District Engineer J.T. Anderson started his career with Missouri DOT, but has spent the last 23 years with MnDOT.

He graduated from North Dakota State University with a civil engineering degree, followed with a civil engineering master’s degree from the University of North Dakota.

His time with MnDOT has included a variety of roles: one year in Metro District maintenance, 15 years in the Thief River Falls resident office, four years as the District 2 area maintenance engineer, two years as the District 2 assistant district engineer for project delivery, and the past year as acting district engineer for District 2.


New library materials posted on the web

New library materials highlighting supplemental guides for engineering exams are now available.

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 or have any questions, email or send requests via the Ask a Librarian webpage.



Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations staff meets community at Somali Independence Day festival

Four men standing in a booth with MnDOT branding on it

The Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations sponsored a booth at the Somali Independence Day festival on Lake Street in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 29. The booth had information on what OFCVO does, information on job opportunities at MnDOT, and a wheel of fortune where visitors to the booth could spin the wheel and earn small prizes for answering trivia questions. Pictured from left are OFCVO employees Jeff Cummins, Adam Omar, John Jaeger and Tim Conroy.

OFCVO works with customers from the East African community in Minnesota on a daily basis, and connecting with the community at this event is part of the office’s ongoing engagement efforts. Photo by Jesse Johnson



We plow for everyone: MnDOT participates in PRIDE Parade

Picture of a plow truck driving through downtown Minneapolis. The side blade features a banner which reads we plow for everyone

More than 20 MnDOT staff members participated in the 2019 Pride Parade Sunday, June 23, in Minneapolis. The parade entry featured walkers, a plow truck bearing a banner which read "We Plow for Everyone," and a Freeway Incident Response Safety Team truck. Photos by Joseph Palmersheim

Nearly 20 people walking through downtown Minneapolis. Some are wearing safety vests. The person in the front has a road cone costume on



On the Job: Grad engineer Ben Sandoz enjoys learning new things

By Rich Kemp

Ben Sandoz is a graduate engineer 2 in District 8. Learn more about the Graduate Engineer and Land Surveyor Program below.

Ben says In the summer I oversee construction contracts. That consist of coordinating changes to the contract, coming up with solutions when they arise, and making payments to the contractor.  I work closely with contractors, inspectors and the public. In the winter I review plans that are being designed for upcoming construction projects and do some project management. I usually start my day by getting caught up on any emails or phone calls. Then I work on reviewing any quantity computations that inspectors put together for pay items on the job. I touch base with the inspectors and contractors and deal with any issues that arise on projects. My favorite part of this job is that forces you to learn and make decisions quick. Also being able to go out to construction sites and see how items are constructed helps me since Iím a visual learner. What are the biggest challenges? The biggest challenge for me is that Iím relatively new to this role in construction so itís a lot of on the spot learning and extra research that I need to do to before I feel comfortable making decisions.

MnDOT’s Graduate Engineer and Land Surveyor program started in the 1970s. Its mission is to recruit and retain civil engineers and land surveyors; provide comprehensive, professional, on-the-job training through development and educational programs; and meet the staffing needs of MnDOT. Top engineers who have gone through the program include Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Sue Mulvihill; Assistant Commissioner Operations Jody Martinson; Assistant Commissioner Engineering Services Nancy Daubenberger; and Assistant Engineering Services Division Director Chris Roy.

To become a graduate engineer 2/LSIT, candidates must have:

  • A bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, land surveying or equivalent
  • Two years professional-level civil engineering/land surveying experience
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineer/Fundamentals of Land Surveying exam
  • A master’s degree in civil engineering, land surveying or equivalent counts as one year of experience

Contact Desiree Doud at 651-366-3375 for more information.

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. 

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