June 10, 2020
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Redeployment stories: MnDOT employees assist other agencies during pandemic

Photo: Clay Ebeling

Clay Ebeling, video services production specialist, was reassigned to the Department of Public Safety in May. Now, viewers may not be seeing Ebeling, but they are definitely seeing his work on a larger stage. His primary responsibility at DPS is live-streaming the press conferences to the governor’s YouTube channel and to the press pools. Submitted photo.

By Joseph Palmersheim

Amidst of all of the changes that have come with working in the age of COVID-19, some MnDOT employees have found themselves temporarily reassigned to jobs at other state agencies.

In March, Executive Order 20-07 authorized the Commissioner of Management and Budget to transfer staff from one state agency to another to maintain operations during the peacetime emergency. During a redeployment as described in the policy, the employee does not become an employee of the receiving agency but instead remains an employee of the sending agency and retains rights in their regular job classification.

“The enterprise redeployment center facilitates the redeployment of state employees across agencies to efficiently and effectively mobilize the state workforce during these times of crisis,” said Trent Weber, assistant office director and HR projects manager. “It helps maintain critical government operations, securing the health and safety of Minnesotans, and ensures laws are faithfully executed.”
Several MnDOT employees have been reassigned under this order, including:

  • Davis Cumberbatch – Human Resources (assigned to Minneapolis Veterans Home)
  • Clay Ebeling – Human Resources (assigned to Department of Public Safety/Governor’s Office)
  • Jed Falgren – Operations Division (assigned to Department of Health)
  • David Haider – Administration (assigned to Minnesota Management and Budget)
  • Jennifer Hoffman – Administration (assigned to Department of Health)
  • Jake Loesch – Communications (assigned to Department of Employment and Economic Development)
  • Erin Meier – Administration (assigned to Department of Health)
  • Gary Simon – Human Resources (assigned to Minneapolis Veterans Home)

We caught up with some of these employees recently to see what that experience has been like.

Clay Ebeling brings governor’s news briefings to wide audience

Clay Ebeling works as a video services production specialist for the Workforce Development Section in the Office of Human Resources. Before he was reassigned to the Department of Public Safety in May, he was live-streaming MnDOT events, and shooting and editing training and other videos.

Now, viewers may not be seeing Ebeling, but they are definitely seeing his work on a larger stage.

“My primary responsibility at DPS is live-streaming the press conferences to the governor’s YouTube channel and to the press pools, (providing) a live feed the news stations can broadcast,” he said.
“I am working with the press, other agencies and groups like the Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as the Governor’s Office. It’s quite an honor to work with such critical teams during the current crises. My office knew of the request to be moved to DPS for assistance, but the initial request didn’t really spell out any details. So when the call came in with a little more detail, it sounded fun and a privilege to serve with the governor.”

Ebeling said he is “doing what I did at MnDOT but with a different set of tools.” The equipment at MnDOT and DPS do the same things, but the hardware, interface and wiring are different. Ebeling compared it to going from an iPhone to an Android phone – both do the same things in different ways. He had the opportunity to shadow one press conference before he needed to take over and run the press conference equipment solo, he said. Within a week, he had a half-dozen successful DPS live streams under his belt.

“When I’m done with my reassignment, I plan to communicate in more detail to my supervisors about how grateful I am about the support I’ve been given over my eight years at MnDOT and how I still get support from them while I am redeployed,” he said. “I have always felt appreciated at MnDOT, but it’s even clearer to me now while being away and supported. But I’m not going to lie, I miss MnDOT.”

Jake Loesch leads communications for unemployment insurance, reopening businesses

Jake Loesch’s regular job is senior director of Communications. Since April, he’s been serving as interim communications director for the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“I’ve been reassigned for almost two months now and we don’t yet have a set end date for when I will return to MnDOT,” he said. “I’ve only worked at MnDOT for about 15 months, so suddenly shifting gears to an entirely new agency and subject matter was unexpected, but then again, no one really planned on a global pandemic either. This year is definitely a year of surprises.”

Loesch’s initial assignment was to head up all communications related to unemployment insurance. With more than twice as many applications for unemployment in the past two months as in all of 2019 combined, there is a significant amount of attention on Minnesota’s unemployment insurance program, he said. He has also been working with Commissioner Steve Grove and DEED’s Senior Leadership Team on the work related to reopening businesses and helping Minnesotans safely return to work.

“It’s been a breakneck pace as I get up to speed on all the work DEED does, but I’ve enjoyed being able to help their team be more nimble and ensure we’re providing Minnesotans with the information and help they need,” he said. “I’ve also enjoyed working closely with the governor’s office on communications related to Executive Orders and reopening Minnesota’s economy safely for both workers and customers.”

Newsline will feature more stories from reassigned MnDOT employees in future issues.



Significant Hwy 61 projects underway in Grand Marais, Grand Portage

By Margie Nelson, District 1 public affairs coordinator

Reconstruction work began on Hwy 61 near Broadway Avenue in May. Photo by Margie Nelson

District 1 is working in the northeastern tip of Minnesota for the 2020 and 2021 construction seasons with significant projects on Hwy 61.

For Grand Marais, this means reconstruction and resurfacing through the city, box culvert replacements, complete streets and accessibility improvements, and 9.5 miles of reconstruction outside of town. Farther north in Grand Portage, 17 miles of pavement resurfacing, culvert replacements, intersection and pedestrian safety improvements, and bilingual signage installation will be starting in July.

“These are critical upgrades to not just the roadway surfaces, but also other pieces of infrastructure like culverts, bridges and subsurface utilities within the project limits,” said Ed Welch, project engineer. “Grand Portage also includes several upgrades in terms of intersection safety which will be a large benefit for the community.”

Significant investments of $20 million in Grand Marais and $14.9 million in Grand Portage are going to be disruptive for the typically busy summer tourist season. Due to the effects of COVID-19, traffic has been quieter than normal on the North Shore so far. Things are expected to pick up as the Stay Safe Minnesota plan progresses and once the Canadian border crossing at Pigeon River reopens.

MnDOT has been closely engaged with the communities on both projects for many years and continues to meet virtually. While the construction traffic impacts are temporary, as Welch puts it, “these segments of Hwy 61 will be in great shape for many years to come.”

Highway 61 Grand Portage project
Hwy 61 reconstruction project Grand Marais



Stillwater Lift Bridge opening completes final link of trail in Minnesota, Wisconsin

By R. Kent Barnard, Metro District Communications & Engagement

Photo: People crossing the newly reopened Stillwater Lift Bridge. Some are walking, some are biking.

After nearly three years of restoration on the 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge, the structure opened to bicycle and pedestrian traffic June 1. The opening comes 14 years after the original 2006 decision to transform Stillwater’s Lift Bridge into a bicycle-pedestrian crossing. Photo by Kent Barnard

A crowd of nearly 100 people waited at each end of the Stillwater Lift Bridge earlier this month for the reopening of the historic lift bridge.

After nearly three years of extensive repairs and restoration, MnDOT workers moved the barricades to open the bridge to bicycle and pedestrian traffic at 8 a.m. Monday, June 1. After the official opening, a steady stream of users enjoyed the final link in the new St. Croix River Crossing Loop Trail.

Although the project was originally expected to be complete last summer, high floodwaters in spring 2019, the discovery of a cracked drum in the lift system and additional work needed on the lift span delayed completion. Crews installed new drums, ring and pinion gears on the lift bridge in early May, and finished adjusting and fine-tuning the bridge’s lift mechanism before the Memorial Day weekend. Newly hired bridge tenders spent the final week of May training on bridge operating and emergency procedures.

The lift bridge is now part of a 4.7-mile bicycle/pedestrian loop trail system connecting the new St. Croix Crossing river bridge with the historic lift bridge and other regional trails. The opening also signaled the start of the 2020 lift schedule to accommodate boat navigation on the St. Croix River.

Transformation of the lift bridge to a bicycle-pedestrian crossing began in August 2017. Restoration work included repairing steel, painting, upgrading the electrical and mechanical system, installing decorative lights and rebuilding the concourse area to restore the lift bridge to its original 1931 look. The opening comes 14 years after the original 2006 stakeholders’ decision to transform Stillwater’s Lift Bridge into a bicycle-pedestrian crossing.

Maps of available parking and loop trail access in both states can be found at



Asphalt delivery tracking goes digital with some 2020 construction projects

By Micaela Resh, Office of Research & Innovation

Photo: computer screen with tracking data

Sample e-ticketing software interface with materials arrival times, readily accessible for project managers on-site. Photo by Micaela Resh

MnDOT construction projects require tons of hot mix asphalt each year, with more than 188 road and bridge projects in the 2020 construction season alone.

Historically, plant-mixed asphalt has been weighed, tracked and paid for with computer-generated paper tickets. Paper ticketing isn’t an ideal process for a variety of reasons: on-site ticket collection poses safety risks, tickets can be easily lost, and data must be tabulated manually, just to name a few.

A new research implementation project is pilot testing an electronic ticketing system that records truck weight digitally, tracks asphalt delivery trucks via GPS and notes truck departure and arrival times through the use of “geofences,” or virtual perimeters for real-world geographic areas. The project is funded by the state research program.

Under the new project, trucks at the supply plant are loaded with asphalt and weighed. E-tickets record the tonnage and type of hot mix asphalt, as well truck departure and arrival times. When trucks leave the supply plant, they are tracked via GPS and geofences that trigger time and date stamps when crossed at the plant and construction sites. The tracking continues until the materials are delivered. This real-time information is made available via a smartphone application to help project managers plan for exactly when the next shipment will arrive.

“Safety is always a top concern for MnDOT,” said Rebecca Embacher, advanced materials and technology engineer, who is leading the project. “The more people we can get out of these areas trafficked with heavy machinery, the better.”

Potential benefits of electronic ticketing include:

  • Increased safety: Removes need for on-site ticket collection
  • Labor savings: Requires less paperwork and manual tabulation of material costs
  • Smoother roads: Allows for a more consistent timing and flow of material to the paver, resulting in smoother roads
  • Accurate accounting: Improves recordkeeping of material usage, which improves planning for future projects
  • Reduced risk: Mitigates disputes over which plant the material came from and whether appropriate haul routes were used

The research team planned to pilot the technology on two or three construction projects for the 2020 construction season; however, in response to COVID-19, contactless ticketing will be deployed at additional locations to ensure social distancing.

“Currently, we have 12 projects that will be using e-ticketing this construction season,” Embacher said. “We are anticipating more as the construction season progresses. Our goal is to reach full deployment by 2024.”
Successful adoption of e-ticketing technology requires collaboration with industry and government partners.
MnDOT is facilitating an e-ticketing task force that includes the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, contractors, auditors, labor officials, asphalt producers and others.

The group is developing recommendations for AASHTO MP39-19, an intelligent construction file format specifications used by state DOTs. Once e-ticketing recommendations are defined, they will be voted on by all 50 states and refined over the next seven years. A standardized system will ensure that DOTs receive similar data from all vendors, which will also be compatible with the AASHTOWARE pavement design software.

“In the future, we hope to have e-ticketing interface with MnDOT’s Intelligent Construction Data Management System, Veta,” Embacher said.

To request project updates or learn more, visit MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation.



Leadership Development Program open enrollment starts June 22

By Shawn Meade, Office of Human Resources

Open enrollment for Groups 15 and 16 of the Leadership Development Program runs June 22 through July 24. There will be a second open enrollment for Group 16 in December.

This unique program allows all employees to work on their core competencies and attend learning opportunities that fit their work schedule. More than 1,300 employees have participated since LDP started in 2012.

“Our employees are realizing the benefits of participating in the program and using its resources to assist them with their development,” said Carol Hennekens, LDP manager. “The 2020-2021 program year, which starts in September, is offering many new learning opportunities and additional resources which will support new as well as past participants who want to enroll again.”

Visit the LDP website to learn more about the program and how to enroll. Employees also are invited to attend a Skype information session hosted and facilitated by the LDP team (see the dates below). To register for an info session, send an email with the session date to Shawn Meade.

Leadership Development Program – Skype information sessions:

  • June 23 - 9 to 9:30 a.m.
  • June 25 - 1 to 1:30 p.m.
  • June 26 - 11 to 11:30 a.m.
  • June 30 - 8 to 8:30 a.m.
  • July 6 - 3 to 3:30 p.m.
The LDP Team is available to answer questions. Contact Carol Hennekens, Shawn Meade or Barbara Vang.



On the Job: Sophia Yang brings experience, expertise to diversity, professional development training

By Mary McFarland Brooks

Photo: Sophia Yang

Photo courtesy of Sophia Yang

Sophia Yang has worked for MnDOT for 26 years. She serves as diversity and inclusion training operations coordinator in the Office of Equity and Diversity. She said, “I enjoy what I do in my current job. I like working with our in-house trainings and appreciate working with employees/offices/districts across the state for their training needs. I am thankful to have a supervisor who values my experiences and the expertise that I bring to my job. I also value the people that I work with and the diversity that they all bring to our team.”
What do you see as the purpose of your work at the agency?
My job is to provide, coordinate, and assess diversity and inclusion training and development programs for the agency. I also arrange individual Intercultural Developmental Inventory assessments with follow-up coaching and assist in Respectful Workplace and Preventing Sexual Harassment training modules. Because I understand the importance of training, I am also a part of the LinkedIn Learning Pilot Program for MnDOT and work on professional development to build my personal skills.
What do you like best about your time at MnDOT?
I think it is important to network and build a partnership with the people that we work with. I love networking and connecting people with one another. I have met so many wonderful employees throughout the agency, from CO, Metro and the districts.
What other MnDOT offices have you worked at prior to Equity and Diversity?
I worked at Central Office Permits, Right of Way (aka Land Management) and Geodetics before moving to Metro District Human Resources, Pre-Design and Utilities. I came back to Central Office to work with Freight and Commercial Vehicle and the Commissioner’s Office until landing in my current position in the Office of Equity and Diversity.
How has your work changed recently?
The last few months have been an interesting and challenging time for our Diversity and Inclusion Unit in regard to trainings. Our instructors have worked diligently to modify our in-house trainings (MnDOT Respectful Workplace trainings series and Preventing Sexual Harassments for Managers and Supervisors) to the Skype platform. We have added many classes in the last three months and will have more classes available. We will also be adding more Diversity and Inclusion training series again in the foreseen future. Stay tuned for announcements from me.

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: 



Employees create innovative ’new normal’ during pandemic

By Katie Walker, Office of Research & Innovation director

Katie Walker. Submitted photo

When Gov. Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-01 on March 13, he directed Minnesotans to Stay at Home.

While more than 2,050 (39 percent) of MnDOT essential employees continued to work in the office, field or lab, nearly 2,300 (43 percent) of employees were suddenly teleworking. This situation was new for all of us. Employees were challenged to find safe and effective new ways to deliver products and services to the public. MnDOT employees responded with creative problem-solving.

What the Office of Research & Innovation is learning about our organization’s response in this time of crisis is that our employees are creative, responsive and adaptable. Employees continue to focus on our core mission of public service - the “why” of our business - while creatively adapting to “how” we get the job done during a global pandemic.

Our office felt it was important to capture all of these experiences to ensure that we are sharing, documenting and thinking about what ideas could be incorporated post-pandemic. 

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher sent an “Innovation Form” survey to MnDOT managers on April 15 to get feedback about what their office or district was doing differently, challenges they were facing, benefits of working remotely and best practices and lessons they had learned. A few weeks later, Employee Resource Group participants and Diversity and Inclusion members were also asked for their feedback.
Here are some of the initial results that illustrate creative problem-solving:

  • Adding a comment box to a project website as another option for the public to provide feedback
  • Using FaceTime to certify an asphalt mixing plant by allowing the inspector and agency representative to work together while social distancing
  • Creating an electronic payment system to provide customers with the option to submit payments online
  • Using electronic signatures and plan review to increase efficiency and reduce paper use
  • Offering an interactive map for construction projects that allows project managers to provide updates
  • Creating an online library list of resources to train and cross-train employees  

View additional Innovation Form results on the COVID-19 SharePoint site. Through the FHWA Innovator’s group I have been sharing, and will continue to share, the feedback we receive with city, county and state agencies across the nation as they look at new and better ways to do business.

In addition, our office is currently soliciting research proposals specific to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Minnesota’s transportation system. This research will assist the department and our transportation partners in proactively responding to the crisis and informing future decision-making.
Proposals will be accepted through Monday, June 15, on our IdeaScale website.

I want to thank everyone for your resiliency and pro-active response to the challenges this unprecedented event presented to all of us.


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