Jan. 6, 2021
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‘Name a Snowplow’ contest generates flurry of interest

Photo: a snowplow kicks up a wake of snow while plowing on the highway

MnDOT has more than 800 snowplows like this one clearing out from a storm in Plymouth last year. A new contest to name eight of the plows, one for each district in the state, has garnered more than 16,000 entires from the public. Photo by Rich Kemp

By Joseph Palmersheim

Plowy McPlowface? Joe Plower? Lake Snowbegone?

MnDOT’s “Name a Snowplow” contest has inspired a blizzard of suggestions from the public, with more than 19,000 entries received as of Jan. 4. The effort, launched Dec. 17, seeks creative, witty and fun names as part of a new effort to name eight snowplows in the agency’s fleet – one snowplow for each MnDOT district in the state.

“The response to this has been incredible,” said Jake Loesch, director, Office of Communications and Public Engagement. “We’ve received more 1,000 entries per day since launching the contest. Since this was a new idea for the 2020-21 winter season, we didn’t really set out with any expectations about number or quality of submissions, but Minnesotans from every corner of the state, and people across the country, seem very excited to participate and send us creative ideas.”

Name ideas can be submitted on the MnDOT website. The submission form will be open until Friday, Jan. 22, and the contest is open to MnDOT employees. The link was also shared on MnDOT's social media channels.

Loesch said there are a few reasons why people seem to be responding to the contest.

“It’s something fun and lighthearted in a very challenging year,” he said. “There’s the novelty of it, and the fact that MnDOT was able to be responsive to the general public. There was a lot of chatter on social media when people found out that Scotland names their snowplows, and they were asking why MnDOT doesn’t do the same. That gave us a good chance to move quickly to give the people what they want, the opportunity to name a snowplow.”

Next steps call for an internal team to review the submissions, remove duplicates (and anything inappropriate), and try to narrow the list down a bit before inviting the public to vote on their favorites in early February. The eight names that get the most votes will then make their way onto a snowplow in each district.     



Recent MnROAD construction offers multiple benefits to MnDOT, partners

By Lauren Dao, Office of Materials & Road Research

When MnROAD needed test section repairs, a nearby neighbor was able to help.

Several new replacement test sections of the MnROAD facility (totaling 1,200 lane feet) were built on both the low-volume road loop and the Interstate 94 mainline section at the end of September. A joint effort allowed for Caterpillar, whose headquarters are close to the MnROAD facility, to test some new asphalt paving equipment that hasn’t been released commercially and for MnDOT researchers to run non-destructive technology testing on fresh asphalt pavement.

“This Caterpillar partnership, like others developed through National Road Research Alliance and MnROAD, allows both road owners and contractors to do common research that benefits both the public in longer-lasting roads at the lowest price and industry to improve quality though better tools and methods for contractors in the future,” said Ben Worel, Research Operations engineer at MnROAD.

For a typical road test cell repair, MnDOT does a full construction contract. Thanks to the partnership with Caterpillar, MnROAD staff was able to prep the site and supply Caterpillar with hot mix asphalt and trucking to the site. Caterpillar laid the materials for free, saving both money and time. The NRRA also posted a call for construction to their members for any ideas or research that could be done with these sections newly available, and Caterpillar requested some sections for the testing.

MnROAD researchers used the project to investigate thick-lift asphalt paving and to further assess the Density Profiling System technology to evaluate asphalt density without destructive coring. MnROAD provided Caterpillar with detailed density data collected during the construction for Caterpillar to evaluate the performance of their prototype equipment, and will continue to monitor these sections.

“Innovation requires this type of partnership, where both groups are working together to solve common problems,” Worel said. “Ultimately, this will provide longer-lasting roadways through better consistency and quality at a lower price in the future. We both have a lot to learn from each other.”



Commissioner participates in podcast discussing transportation issues facing Midwest states

Photo: Screenshot of podcast with the commissioner

From left, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman; Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson; and MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher shared their thoughts about transportation issues and partnerships Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher recently joined Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson and Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Omer Osman for a three-part podcast series discussing how collaboration is helping Midwest states respond to shared transportation issues like the rise in traffic deaths and the coronavirus pandemic.

Transportation Connects Us​ is the official podcast of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, representing the efforts of the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials.

In the first of the three podcast episodes, the three transportation chiefs discuss the value of the MAASTO partnership and share how member states have collaborated on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There's a lot going on in each of our states, and of course the public health response was top of mind,” Anderson Kelliher said. “But we also wanted to keep our economy moving, both in terms of the needs for shipments across state lines, as well as the issues around keeping a construction season going, which was vital to each of our economies this year. MAASTO enabled us to share our best practices as far as what we were sharing with our governors, as well as touching base with key industry partners and stakeholders. ​That alone really shows the value of an organization like MAASTO,” she said. 

In episode two, the transportation chiefs discuss Connected and Automated Vehicle technology and the future of transportation; episode three covers the importance of diversity in transportation.

Stream or download the podcast at

The MAASTO mission is to foster the development, operation and maintenance of an integrated and balanced transportation system that serves the transportation needs of its member states. MAASTO member states are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.



One year, zero injuries: Hibbing Truck Station honored for safety

By JP Gillach

Photo: a sign with the MnDOT creed

The MnDOT Creed. Submitted photo

The Hibbing truck station crew is being recognized for one year of injury-free work.

As part of MnDOT’s new Safety Recognition Program, each of the nine-member crew will receive a letter of commendation from Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and is eligible to choose a commemorative keepsake item to acknowledge their collective achievement. The Hibbing truck station crew members are Scott Danielson, John Flint, David Hoskins, Jeff Mutchler, Richard Poupard, David Rankila, Justin Shega, Joe Turkula and James Twa.

How did the Hibbing crew achieve more than a full year injury free?

“Achieving a year-plus with no injuries requires constant vigilance,” said Chris Cheney, maintenance operations superintendent, District 1. “Just read the MnDOT Creed: ‘No job is so important in Maintenance or Construction, and no service is so urgent that we cannot take time to perform our work safely.’”

Living out the attitude of the MnDOT creed daily is just the beginning. There are also practical things the Hibbing crew does daily to help one another stay safe on the job.

“We talk about the job at hand that has to be done,” said Scott Danielson, transportation generalist senior. “We talk about it with the crew. Everyone has input. We come up with a plan, even if it takes an extra hour or two to hammer out the details. We then go out in the field and work the plan. If we have a problem, we go back to square one and fix it.”

That process of planning the work, followed by continuous communication and assessment from every crew member, continues until every member of the crew is satisfied with the plan and work to be performed.
Holly Johnson, transportation operations specialist for Distract 1’s Range Subarea, summarized it this way: “We talk and we communicate. The more we communicate, the more we solve problems.”

The crew also develops a checklist of what they’ll need in the field for each job. The checklist includes everything from major equipment, to the plans and paperwork, to the handheld tools and PPE they’ll need to work safe.
The crew is also quick to point out that the focus on safety and pre-task planning doesn’t just help them work safely, it helps the job go smoother, and usually faster.

Three others recognized through SRP

The Hibbing crew was one of four Safety Recognition Program recipients recognized in the first six weeks since the SRP was launched in November 2020. The other three include:

  • Nancy Daubenberger,  deputy commissioner and chief engineer, in the Proactive Safety category
  • Jay Urban, transportation specialist, Metro District, in the Proactive Safety category
  • Tom Johnson, transportation specialist, District 2, in the Excellence in Safety Performance (Individual or Team) category

Visit the Safety Recognition Program page to nominate a MnDOT colleague or work group for outstanding safety achievement.



New ‘Equity in Transportation’ discussion series kicks off in February

Photo: A group of people seated at a table

District 8 partnered with Marshall Public School’s Early Childhood Family Education program last year to gather information on how parents use Hwy 19/College Drive and address their transportation needs as part of the vision for the Hwy 19 reconstruction project. The groups included Spanish, Somali and Karen families and their translators. Photo by Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt

By Judy Jacobs, Office of Organizational Planning and Management 

MnDOT’s work has the potential to affect the citizens of Minnesota in a variety of ways.

An Equity in Transportation lunch-and-learn series will kick off in February to educate and inform employees and highlight work MnDOT is doing to advance equity throughout the agency. A new topic will be presented each month to share information about ongoing equity efforts at MnDOT and spark ideas for future initiatives. The series kicks off Feb. 4 at noon with a presentation highlighting “Equity in Contracting.”

This series is leadership-sponsored and is an outcome from the Managers’ Workshop held in late September 2020.

“The recent MnDOT’s Managers’ Workshop featured an Equity in Transportation session that generated a lot of interest and discussion,” said Nancy Daubenberger, deputy commissioner and chief engineer. “Participants wanted to continue the discussion through a series of targeted presentations that feature some of the current activities at MnDOT.”

Presenters for the Feb. 4 event include Sean Skibbie, acting director, Office of Civil Rights; and Mary Schmidt, director, Metro District Office of Advancing Equity.

“Metro District’s Advancing Equity Office is partnering with the Office of Civil Rights to talk about the work our offices are doing to mitigate or eliminate MnDOT’s contracting disparities and to inform and engage leaders and employees on how to support these efforts,” Schmidt said.

A future session will address equity in project development. The discussion will include equity-focused efforts within the scoping and project selection process, how MnDOT is improving public engagement and outreach by working with community-based organizations and MnDOT’s vision for integrating transportation and community with the Rethinking I-94 project. In addition, District 8 will share examples of how they are advancing equity with their engagement and communication efforts within specific projects.

More details for individual sessions will be sent out via NoteMailer prior to each session. Watch for specific information about the Equity in Transportation series in future emails and the iHUB calendar of events page.
The Equity in Transportation series is open to all employees and recorded for viewing after each event. Each session will be from noon until 1 p.m.  

“The Office of Equity and Diversity is committed to expanding the agency’s intercultural competence,” said Seema Desai, director, Office of Equity and Diversity. ”It’s critical that MnDOT’s employees have the information they need to gain trust in the communities we serve to effectively deliver high quality and dependable transportation systems statewide.” 

“Equity in Transportation is much bigger than one office or an initiative,” said Sara Severs, chief of staff. “It requires collaboration efforts across the agency.”  



Volunteers sought for newly funded research projects

By Micaela Resh, Office of Research & Innovation

Photo: a truck in a right-turn lane

In a new study, researchers will examine possible impacts to pedestrian safety posed by right-turn lanes. MnDOT Photo

MnDOT and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board have funded 26 new research projects and are seeking volunteers to serve as Technical Advisory Panel members and help guide the research.

Researchers will address transportation challenges like:

To volunteer to serve on a Technical Advisory Panel, contact David Glyer. Include your name, a short description of your qualifications and why you're interested in serving.

Each spring, the MnDOT Research Steering Committee and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board solicit research ideas from transportation practitioners and later request proposals from universities. In December, the research governing boards meet to hear these proposals and select projects for funding. To receive updates on any of the funded projects, select “subscribe” on the project webpage. Contact Dave Glyer to volunteer for a project advisory team.

Join the Office of Research & Innovation on Wednesday, Jan. 13, to learn more about the research program, recently selected projects, opportunities for serving on technical advisory panels, and tools for staying up-to-date on cutting-edge transportation research. The webinar will include a 30-minute presentation and a 30-minute Q&A. Email for the calendar invitation.

Have an idea for MnDOT's next funding cycle? Submissions are due March 15 for 2021 projects. Visit IdeaScale to submit your idea.



More tips for using Microsoft Teams

Since last fall, MnDOT offices and work groups have been making the transition to Microsoft Teams from Skype, which will be decommissioned by the end of January.

On Nov. 30, 2020, 24 percent of web meetings over a 60-day period took place in Microsoft Teams. By Dec. 21, 2020, this number grew to 56 percent.

In response to employee questions, MNIT and the Technology Investment Management group have compiled resources staff can use to find additional information.

Where to find current Teams information

Up-to-date information on Teams at MnDOT is available on the Teams MnDOT Website. Find out more about additional trainings offered by MNIT.

What’s new with Microsoft 365

Want to find out which M365 applications are available to you? Access all of your apps via the Office 365 Portal at When you’re signed in with your state email and password, you will see the Microsoft online versions of applications that you’re familiar with such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams. The “All Apps” icon with show you all of the additional Microsoft online applications that you have access to, such as Forms, OneNote, Planner and Stream, to name a few.

See the new features scheduled for Microsoft 365, and learn more about them. If you would like to be notified when the new features list is updated, you can create an alert to receive an email notification.

Teams dial-in

Teams Dial-in provides a conference code and PIN for meeting attendees to call into Teams Meetings. This can be a great tool for external meeting participants and those with low bandwidth to connect into meetings.

In response to the COVID-related remote work, this service is currently centrally funded through the TIM unit. In the future, offices and districts may be financially responsible for the $3.70 fee for each end user per month. Only meeting organizers are required to have the dial-in feature added to their account for all participants to use this feature. Please see MNIT’s webpage on Teams Dial-in for additional information or for ordering information.

Notification management within a meeting

You may notice an increased number of notifications in Teams as more of your colleagues start using it for chat and meetings. You can control the notifications you see from chats and Teams Meetings. This will help you focus on the conversations that matter most to you.

Teams Meeting chats are visible outside of meetings in the “chat” area of Teams. If you no longer want to see chat updates for a meeting, right-click on the meeting in your chat window and select “leave” or selecting the participants button in the top right hand corner of a chat window and selecting “leave.” Meeting organizers are also able to control chat visibility by removing meeting attendees from meetings. More information on Teams Meeting access can be found on the Microsoft Teams Meeting Access Scenarios and Best Practices document.

More information on notification management.
This article was written by Evan Iacoboni, Matthew Baszner, Nkauj Her, Bobby Underhill and Susan Ogbemudia.



New library materials posted on the web

New Library Materials are now available. This issue features new ebooks in the cloudLibrary platform for MnDOT employees.

New Library Materials is a compilation of new titles and other resources added to the library collection during the previous month. Sign up for the distribution list. Questions and feedback are welcome at



On the Job: Nicole Westadt helps agency plan for the future

By Rich Kemp

Photo: Nicole Westadt

Nicole Westadt. Photo by Rich Kemp

Nicole Westadt is a strategic planning coordinator in the Office of Organizational Planning and Management. She has been with MnDOT for four years.

What has been your career path at MnDOT and before starting here?
I started in the Office of Transit as a principal planner in 2016. I moved to the Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicles in 2017 and began my current role in 2018. Before MnDOT, I worked at the Illinois Department of Transportation for five years as a planner. Prior to that I was a planner at the Champaign-Urbana Metropolitan Planning Organization for four years.

What do you do in your job?
I oversee the implementation of our current Strategic Operating Plan. Currently, I am leading the project to update MnDOT’s Mission and Values, which will set the stage for an updated Strategic Plan for FY22-25. Additionally, I support the agency’s business planning program and assist with special projects.

What is your favorite part about your job?
There are many things I enjoy about my job. I get to work with people from across of the organization, which has taught me a lot about the responsibilities of MnDOT to the people of Minnesota. I like that my work is rooted in organizational development and improvement. I believe that as individuals and organizations, we can always learn, grow and become better.

What are the biggest challenges?
My work is important, but not necessarily urgent. This means that other priorities tend to take precedence and strategic planning gets put on the back burner. Also, implementing change is hard and takes time. I like to move fast, but I can’t change the direction of the current alone.

What kind of changes have you seen in your job?
My role has evolved quite a bit over the past two years. It was a new role, in a new office so that is to be expected.

Has your job changed a lot because of COVID-19?
My primary work has remained the same, though the pandemic has impacted the way in which my work is conducted and people’s ability to engage. I have been fortunate to assist with several special projects that have developed as a result of the pandemic.

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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