Sept. 30, 2020
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Multiple construction projects keep Thief River Falls area busy this year

By Leslie Seitz, District 2 Public Affairs

This image is a visual representation of the construction projects going on in the Thief River Falls area this year. The projects are listed within the text of the story in numerical order according to road name

This map shows the variety of construction projects going on in the Thief River Falls area this year (click for a larger version of the image). MnDOT graphic

Among MnDOT, Pennington County, city of Thief River Falls and the Red Lake Watershed, there have been more than 10 projects happening in the Thief River Falls and surrounding area this year. The work included:

  • Hwy 1 - Construct three roundabouts, frontage road and multi-use trail between Hwy 59 and Kinney Avenue
  • Hwy 1 - Replace culvert west of the intersection with Hwy 59
  • Hwy 1 - Resurface between Hwy 219 and Pennington County Road 18 east of Thief River Falls
  • Hwy 32 - Construct roundabout at the intersection with Pennington County Road 8 and County Road 16
  • Hwy 32 - Replace culvert south of Pennington County Road 7
  • Hwy 32 - Resurface between Thief River Falls and St. Hilaire
  • Hwy 32 - Pedestrian improvements in St. Hilaire
  • Pennington County Road 8/Mark Boulevard - Connect road with the construction of a new bridge over the Red Lake River
  • Pennington County Road 8/Mark Boulevard - Construct roundabout at Pennington Ave S/Pennington County Road 17 near Challenger Elementary
  • Westside Flood Damage Reduction Project - Construct a diversion channel and drainage infrastructure on the west side of Thief River Falls. Underground storm sewer will be installed along Barzen Avenue and Greenwood Street, along with a new sanitary sewer

Photo: aerial photo of a roundabout

The Barzen Avenue roundabout was the second roundabout to be constructed along Hwy 59 in Thief River Falls. Photo by Grant Nelson

Although the projects didn’t all begin at once, they all had to coordinate to combine detours and lessen the overall impact on residents and travelers.

“We held weekly meetings,” said Andrea Weleski, the District 2 project manager overseeing the Hwy 1 roundabouts and resurfacing projects. “And since we met virtually, we were able to meet with the public each week, too.”

The hardest part might have been keeping people up to date, she said, especially because public engagement has had to look different this year.

In a first-of-its-kind event for MnDOT District 2, project staff hosted a virtual open house that also included Pennington County, the city of Thief River Falls and the Red Lake Watershed. Since the projects began back in May, MnDOT has continued to host these meetings each week. Along with weekly meetings, the district also sent out a weekly update to email subscribers.

The weekly contacts made it easier for residents to understand when a delay came up.

“We had a number of weather delays that pushed back elements of the project,” Weleski said. “So we made the decision to delay completion of that final roundabout, near the Petro Pumper intersection, until the spring. We understand the community has had multiple construction projects to navigate this summer, and adding another in the spring isn’t ideal.”

Planning to resurface pavement and pouring concrete in November can be challenging given Minnesota’s weather patterns. It can lead to further delays or require additional repairs in the spring.

“A roundabout is not a project that we can stop halfway through and complete next summer. Once you begin a roundabout, you must see it through completion,” says Bill Pirkl, District 2 Program Delivery. “In order to avoid a winter-long detour route, we will pause construction on Oct. 9 and pick it up again in the spring.”

MnDOT will announce in October the spring 2021 construction schedule for the Hwy 1 and Hwy 59 roundabout.



Redeployment stories: MnDOT Seeds worker assists DPS

By Joseph Palmersheim

Editor’s note: This is a continuation in our series about MnDOT employees who have found themselves temporarily reassigned to jobs at other state agencies to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandra Flores Castillo screens for COVID-19 in Arden Hills

Photo: Sandra Flores Castillo

Sandra Flores Castillo, a Seeds student worker, pictured outside of the Arden Hills Department of Public Safety facility she was reassigned to in June. Her assignment, original scheduled through Sept. 5, has been extended to the end of the year. Submitted photo.

Sandra Flores Castillo, a Seeds student worker in Metro District’s Design office, has been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 as a health screener at the Arden Hills Department of Public Safety facility. She started the assignment in June, which has now been extended to the end of 2020.

“The tasks I have been doing at DPS range from checking customers’ temperatures and questioning them about their health to providing great customer service,” Flores Castillo said. “Whether someone needs help making appointments or asking about reinstatement fees, I have the knowledge to assist them. I check people in and sometimes work one-on-one with a few of them. One of the benefits of being bilingual is being able to help Spanish-speaking customers who need help but don't understand English so well. I like to make them feel more welcome and comfortable with asking me any question they have.”

She’s come up with different ways to communicate depending on who she is working with.

“When I need to help a customer who speaks a different language then me, I use Google Translate and we build a bridge to communicate between each other,” she said. “Sometimes, even writing notes back and forth is an effective form of communication with a deaf customer, because reading lips is hard while people are wearing masks. This experience has helped me be more confident with people, because I was a shy person before working at DPS.”

Flores Castillo has been working for MnDOT since her senior year of high school and hopes to continue her professional/educational endeavors in state government. She is currently attending the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and plans to major in civil engineering or geographic information science.
Prior stories in the Reassignment series:



2019 omnibus results show Minnesotans generally satisfied with MnDOT

By Steph Fenner

More than two-thirds of Minnesota residents are generally satisfied with MnDOT’s performance of its mission, according to the agency’s 2019 public omnibus survey.

The response is similar to previous years’ omnibus results. The omnibus survey is administered every two years to provide department leadership, managers and program staff with public perceptions on MnDOT’s core operations and performance measures. The 2019 omnibus surveyed 1,400 Minnesota residents over phone (both landline and cell) and online from Nov. 26, 2019 to Feb. 19, 2020. This year’s survey was completed before Minnesota’s COVID-19 “Stay at Home” order was issued in March.

According to results, MnDOT continues to exceed its target goal in three of six maintenance indicators (clearing roads of debris, making road stripes/pavement markings clearly visible in dry conditions at night, and clearing roads of snow and ice) and is stable on the remaining three (making road stripes/pavement markings clearly visible in wet conditions at night, overall road maintenance, and keeping road surfaces smooth and comfortable).

Photo: a graph from the report illustrating percentages mentioned in the story

This year’s results show statistically significant decreases in several areas since the last omnibus survey in 2017, including:

  • Prioritizing roadway users’ safety (83% agree vs. 88% in 2017)
  • Being relied upon to deliver Minnesota’s transportation system (83% agree vs. 87%)
  • Building roads and bridges (72% confident vs. 78%)
  • Communicating accurate information (64% confident vs. 70%)
  • Reliability of communications (66% reliable vs. 74%)

“I think it is very helpful to get this direct feedback on the experience of users of our system,” said Scott Peterson, deputy commissioner and chief administrative officer. “It provides important information that should guide our collective decision-making around construction priorities, construction staging, communication, management practices and allocating resources, especially where our established priorities are not consistent with trends in public perception.”

Several additions to this year’s survey measured public perceptions related to trust and how MnDOT is viewed. The results show that 72% of Minnesotans trust MnDOT to do what is right most of the time or always, and residents are most likely to associate MnDOT with being safe and reliable when asked how well they think certain characteristics describe MnDOT.

Recommendations from this year’s results included promoting MnDOT’s safe and reliable operations, providing reliable communication through an array of sources, and documenting and sharing examples of how MnDOT provides quality highways and bridges.

“I’m very pleased that over one-in-four survey respondents said they had engaged with MnDOT in 2019,” said Nancy Daubenberger, deputy commissioner and chief engineer. “This is an increase from 2017 and a good indicator that the public appreciates our commitment to receiving input and feedback on our work.”
Additionally, 85% of Minnesota residents said they agree with the need to invest significantly more in transportation than the state has done in the past – including maintaining and improving roads and bridges, rail, transit and trails throughout the state.

The 2019 omnibus survey results are not yet available on iHUB. Contact Steph Fenner, Office of Communications and Public Engagement, for more information or to see the results of the 2019 omnibus survey.



Statewide Plan update underway – now with a new look

By Hally Turner, Office of Transportation System Management

Minnesota GO logo

MnDOT planners have started working on an update to the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan.
Last updated in January 2017, the SMTP is Minnesota’s highest level plan for all transportation modes and partners. It sets objectives, performance measures and strategies to advance the Minnesota GO vision of a multimodal transportation system that maximizes the health of people, the environment and the economy over the next 20 years.

“Sometimes when people hear ‘multimodal,’ they think biking, walking and transit,” said Philip Schaffner, director of Statewide Planning. “This plan covers all forms of transportation and all users of our system.”
An update to the plan is due by early 2022. The SMTP update process includes engaging internal and external stakeholders and the public, and reviewing transportation trends and innovations.

“How to advance transportation equity and respond to our climate crisis will be key questions we wrestle with during this update,” Schaffner said. “We’re also engaging our partners and stakeholders to identify other topics that could benefit from additional direction or where our current plan could be clearer.”
This plan update will also have a new look.

“We have updated the visual look of Minnesota GO to more closely match MnDOT’s look,” Schaffner said. “One of MnDOT’s primary charges is to be a planning organization, and this update will help connect our plans with the agency’s engineering, construction, maintenance and modal programs.”

The update includes a refresh to visual elements that will be reflected in Minnesota GO, MnDOT’s Family of Plans and MnDOT’s website. In addition to the SMTP, MnDOT’s Family of Plans includes modal and systems plans for transit, rail, pedestrians, bicyclists, freight, ports and waterways, and state highway investment. The first plan that will include the new look will be the Statewide Pedestrian System Plan, expected in early 2021.

Updates of other major plans are anticipated in the next two years, including the 20-year State Highway Investment Plan and State Rail Plan.

Contact Hally Turner to request an opportunity to discuss the plan update with an office or group. Visit for more information on the SMTP and MnDOT’s other planning efforts.



Workers’ Compensation Injury Reporting and Return to Work policy updated

By Joseph Palmersheim

The Workers' Compensation Injury Reporting and Return to Work Policy #WF012 has been revised and takes effect immediately.

The policy updates reflect the change to an electronic injury/illness reporting system using eSAFE, which stands for “Electronic Safety Accountability For Everyone.” eSAFE is MnDOT’s incident recordkeeping system.

“Changing to an electronic system gives us the ability to better administratively manage work injuries,” said Sue Kielty, Workers’ Comp program manager. “We’re better able to spot trends. Handwritten information can be difficult to decipher. With this, everything is legible. It also gives us one location for all incidents. As employees move within the department, the information stays in one spot.”

The system is available to users 24 hours a day. It is important for employees and supervisors to be familiar with their roles and responsibilities regarding injury reporting by reviewing the policy at the link provided. The policy format changed to two separate documents. The first document identifies the policy purpose and responsibilities, and the second document identifies the procedures.

Reporting time lines have not changed and remain the same. Report all work-related injuries or illnesses immediately and not later than 24 hours after the injury or illness. Visit the Work Injury website for complete information about injury reporting and follow up.

Employees who have questions can contact Sue Kielty or the Work Comp Coordinator for their district.



‘False Claims Against the State’ policy updated

By Kyle Fisher, Office of Chief Counsel

MnDOT’s Governance Committee recently approved an update to the False Claims Against the State policy. This policy update, now in effect, clarified the agency’s procedure in responding to allegations of false claims against the state. Employees’ responsibilities under the policy remain unchanged.

A false claim can take several forms, such as a third-party submitting to MnDOT a knowingly false request for payment. MnDOT employees must report suspected violations of the Minnesota False Claims Act to their supervisor or the Office of Chief Counsel. They can also use MnDOT’s anonymous Report Wrongdoing/Questionable Activity Form. Managers and supervisors receiving a report of a suspected violation of the False Claims Act from an employee must report the suspected violation to the Office of Chief Counsel.

The revised policy can be found on the policy website and the front page of iHUB.



Seven reasons to get your flu shot

Flu season is quickly approaching. Amidst the COVID-19 global health pandemic, it’s more important than ever that you and your family members get a flu shot. Although doctors recommend getting an annual vaccine every year, more than half of Americans don’t get it.

Here are seven reasons why you should get your flu shot:

  • It’s free with most insurance. The flu shot is covered by most health insurances, including the Minnesota State Advantage Health Plan.
  • We’re offering a safe and convenient way for you to get it. Our flu shot clinics provide a safe and convenient way for you to get vaccinated without making a special trip to the doctor’s office or pharmacy.
  • You can bring family members to select clinics and get vaccinated together. This year, we’re introducing All Employee and Family clinics where you can bring your immediate family members to get vaccinated all at the same time. Use the search tool to find flu shot clinics; clinics open to all employees and family members, regardless of their agency, are identified as “All Employee and Family Clinics.”
  • You’ll earn 100 points toward your well-being reward. When you get your flu shot, you’ll earn 100 points toward our well-being program. Earn 200 points by Oct. 31 and we’ll pay $70 of your deductible next year. Report that you got your flu shot in Virgin Pulse to get your points. 
  • It can cut your flu risk roughly in half. While the vaccine doesn’t eliminate the possibility of getting the flu, research shows it reduces the risk between 40 to 60 percent.
  • It can reduce the severity and duration of the flu. Even if you get the flu, the vaccine can help reduce the severity and duration of the illness. The flu can lead to a severe illness, like pneumonia, or create complications for existing medical conditions.
  • It can help preserve scarce medical supplies. Flu shots protect against the virus and lessen its severity to help prevent hospitalizations. By taking every precaution to protect ourselves from the flu, we’re helping to preserve scarce medical resources for health care providers.

Stay healthy. Get a flu shot.

Getting a flu shot is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can keep yourself, your family members and your friends healthy. Learn more about our employee flu shot clinics at



On the Job: Kevin Nagle's dispatch work helps highway safety

By Rich Kemp


Kevin Nagle. Photo by Rich Kemp

Kevin Nagle is a Freeway Incident Response Safety Team dispatcher and has been with MnDOT for eight years. Prior to joining MnDOT, he worked in the private sector gathering and distributing traffic incident data. He is based in the Metro District.

What do you do in your job?
I dispatch FIRST units (previously known as “Highway Helpers”) to incidents on the Twin Cities metro freeway system. I monitor MnDOT's network of more than 1,200 cameras, State Patrol radios, a Computer Aided Dispatch system, telephones and radio scanners to detect and locate incidents on the highways. Additionally, I deploy overhead message signs on the freeway to alert motorists of hazards on the freeway, and also provide traffic incident updates to media partners so they can distribute that information to their viewers, listeners and readers.

What is your favorite part about your job?
The FIRST program responds to all kinds of incidents on the freeway to assist the traveling public. Whether our FIRST drivers are at the scene of a crash, helping to clear debris out of traffic lanes or changing a flat tire, we are helping to keep traffic moving quickly and safely. I love that we help people every day, including folks who don't even realize that our actions to clear vehicles off the freeway contributes to a better driving experience for them.

What are the biggest challenges?
Snow days. When crashes and spinouts are getting called in faster than we can locate them, it's a real challenge. We do our best to find the highest priority incidents - crashes that are blocking and crashes with injuries - and direct our resources to respond to those events first.

What kind of changes have you seen in your job?
The cooperation between FIRST and State Patrol has continued to get better and better in the years I have been here. Our FIRST drivers work hand-in-hand with State Troopers, and FIRST dispatchers work hand-in-hand with State Patrol's dispatchers to provide the best possible service and emergency response to the public.

Has your job change a lot because of COVID-19?

FIRST is considered a Priority 1 essential service, so our operations have not changed significantly. It was certainly a surreal experience managing traffic on relatively empty highways during the initial response to COVID-19. However, traffic levels in the past month or two seem to be getting back closer to typical pre-pandemic days.

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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