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May 25, 2022
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Gov. Walz appoints Nancy Daubenberger as MnDOT commissioner

Photo: Nancy Daubenburger

Nancy Daubenburger is the new MnDOT commissioner. Photo by Rich Kemp

On May 23, Gov. Tim Walz appointed Nancy Daubenberger to serve as the commissioner of MnDOT. Daubenberger has led the agency since the departure of former Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher. 

 “Nancy Daubenberger has immediately taken up MnDOT’s mission to provide safe, reliable transportation for all Minnesotans,” said Gov. Walz. “With experience in management and engineering, she has quickly made an impact. I have confidence that her leadership will continue to strengthen our state’s transportation system.”

 “We’re grateful to Nancy for stepping up and skillfully leading the Department of Transportation,” said Lt. Gov. Flanagan. “I look forward to continuing to partner to improve Minnesota’s roads, bridges, and transportation systems.” 

Daubenberger has worked for MnDOT for more than 22 years, in both engineering and management positions. She was appointed Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer in December 2019. Prior to her current role, she served as the Assistant Commissioner for Engineering Services and the State Bridge Engineer; she also previously served in planning, project management and design roles for the MnDOT Bridge Office and Metro District. Before coming to MnDOT, she worked in consulting for about six years, in both bridge and road design.

“MnDOT is full of talented, passionate, and hardworking professionals, and I am deeply honored to accept the appointment to serve as your next Commissioner,” said Daubenberger. “We find ourselves at such a pivotal and exciting time in the world of transportation: From our core mission of ensuring a safe, accessible, efficient, and reliable multimodal transportation system – to other key agency priorities such as advancing racial equity and inclusion, improving resiliency, investing in carbon reduction, and expanding Minnesota’s electric vehicle charging network, we have to be ready to deliver projects quickly and responsibly with thorough public and stakeholder engagement. The work we do every day at MnDOT keeps people connected to things they need and people they love, and I look forward to the work ahead.”

Headlines TABLE of CONTENTS

Comprehensive Hwy 52 project to boost safety along Rochester to Twin Cities corridor

By Mike Dougherty, District 6 Public Engagement and Communications

Photo: Demolition work on Hwy 52 bridge.

Demolition work occurs May 10 overnight to remove the Hwy 52 southbound bridge south of Zumbrota. Last year, the adjacent Hwy 52 northbound bridge was replaced. Photo by Scott Johnson

Thanks to funding from the auto parts sales tax, District 6 has expanded a project on Hwy 52 from Zumbrota to Cannon Falls, originally scheduled for a mill and overlay, into a more comprehensive effort to address safety along a nearly 14-mile corridor.

The $69.7 million construction project comes after a design process that included more than two years of public engagement and outreach to connect with people who live, work and travel along Hwy 52. MnDOT’s team, led by project manager Jai Kalsy, held meetings in church gathering halls, city halls, fire stations, township halls and even at dining room tables, as they worked to develop a project that reflected the needs and concerns of the people affected by the work. MnDOT used these discussions to develop key elements of the projects, including the interchange at Hwy 57, snow drift control and safety improvements.

Photo: Construction crews working on Hwy 52.

Construction crews prepare to build the Hwy 52 interchange at Hwy 57 and Goodhue County Road 8. Crews are building the northbound Hwy 52 bridge over Hwy 57 at the interchange first. Photo by Rich Kemp

The construction project work began in July 2021 with crews replacing two bridges and building a series of median crossover lanes to aid moving traffic safely through the work zone in the coming years of construction work. Crews picked up where they left off last year and began work this year on April 21. If all goes according to plan, by November 2023, the completed work will include:

  • Pavement reconstruction of 13.5 miles of southbound Hwy 52 (these lanes are the original roadbed that existed prior to its expansion to four lanes decades ago)
  • Construction of an interchange and a new bridge at Hwy 57
  • Replacement of four existing bridges and three box culverts
  • Drainage improvements, including replacement of multiple drainage structures and lining of pipes
  • Asphalt mill and overlay (three miles)
  • Bridge overlay
  • Closure of 27 access points and medians  
  • Grading of approximately four miles of local roadways.
  • Noise Walls
  • Snow fence

“The design-build project of Hwy 52 will improve safety along this busy road that connects the Twin Cities and Rochester,” said Tory Thompson, the MnDOT engineer and project manager for the project. “By the end of 2022, we’ll have seven miles of pavement reconstructed and an interchange built, and by fall of 2023, there will be seven more miles of pavement completed.”

Metro District has completed two projects in recent years on Hwy 52 and has another planned for 2023-2024. District 6 has another project further out and a study underway. To assist motorists and other who are interested in the Hwy 52 corridor, District 6 and Metro have teamed up to maintain a Hwy 52 corridor website for anyone interested in learning the latest information.

Headlines TABLE of CONTENTS

Minnesota Transportation Conference returns with robust programming and attendance

By Doug Mack

Photo: MnDOT Road Doctor survey van.

Visitors checked out the MnDOT Road Doctor survey van during the Transportation Conference & Expo. Photo by Rich Kemp

For the first time since 2020, the Minnesota Transportation Conference & Expo returned to in-person sessions at the RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul. More than 1,400 people, including 400 MnDOT employees, attended the event, which ran from May 17 to May 19.

The return of the conference also included an increase in programming. “We added new improvements to try to make it more of a draw to increase attendance,” said Laurie Ryan, Engineering Services Division, who was one of the event’s organizers. “We expanded the number of track categories from seven topics last year to 13 tracks featuring 97 different sessions.”

Photo: Chad Hanson.

Chad Hanson, District 6 project manager, spoke with a participant after his presentation on ďManaging a Traffic Mess.Ē Photo by Rich Kemp

Ryan worked with 13 MnDOT subject-matter experts who volunteered to serve as track chairs and selected the session topics from the more than 150 abstracts that were submitted. These experts included Andrew Andrusko, Nicki Bartelt, Michael Beer, Todd Bergland, Ken Buckeye, Paul Czech, Glenn Engstrom, Cindy Gross, Marni Karnowski, Chris Roy, Dave Solsrud, Tom Strybicki and Kevin Western. In addition to Ryan, the event’s planning committee over the last year included Beer, Engstrom, Melissa Brand and Mark Gieseke.

The expo portion of the event included 80 exhibitors, among them a MnDOT Road Doctor survey van. The van was a focal point, greeting visitors at the entrance to the expo hall and highlighting the agency’s use of the latest technology, including a 3D radar GPR unit—a large, yellow sensor mounted on the front of the van—and computer monitors showing data that MnDOT teams had collected using the vehicle. The expo hall also included a new Innovation Showcase Stage hosted by the Office of Materials & Road Research and two of its major partners, the National Road Research Alliance and the International Society for Intelligent Construction.

“We can thank our M&RR Office Director Glenn Engstrom as the driving force behind bringing these great partners with dozens of new attendees from across the country and beyond to our conference,” Ryan said.

Photo: Deputy Chief Counsel Jim Cownie and Associate Legal Counsel Fatema Haji-Taki

Deputy Chief Counsel Jim Cownie and Associate Legal Counsel Fatema Haji-Taki presented a session on ethical decision-making at the Minnesota Transportation Conference & Expo. Photo by Rich Kemp

MnDOT employees led many of the sessions, with the far-ranging topics showcasing the breadth of the agency’s interests and efforts, from community engagement to civil engineering to best practices for business ethics.

At one session on Wednesday, Jay Hietpas, MnDOT’s Assistant Commissioner of Operations, led a presentation on connected and automated vehicles, discussing how this technology can improve safety and accessibility, while also noting some of the challenges of implementation. Hietpas highlighted the Med City Mover in Rochester, a MnDOT project featuring two low-speed, automated, electric, multi-passenger shuttles. During another Wednesday session, Mary Safgren, the planning director for District 4, collaborated with Michael Bowman of the White Earth Department of Transportation to discuss the topic of tribal partnerships in pedestrian planning.

Thursday’s MnDOT-led sessions included one on Rethinking I-94, offering a behind-the-scenes look at this ongoing project and the extensive public engagement involved, and a presentation on business ethics by Deputy Chief Counsel Jim Cownie and Associate Legal Counsel Fatema Haji-Taki. The latter session closed the conference but still had a full audience, which Cowrie called “very gratifying.”

“We hope that it helps to support having ethical considerations be part of our daily decision-making,” he said.  

Looking back after the event, Haji-Taki said, “I had a great time at the conference learning new things, reconnecting in person with folks after such a long hiatus and establishing new relationships. As we move into a new phase of hybrid work, conferences such as these will become a vital part of building and maintaining relationships.”

Conference organizers hope for an even larger event in the coming years. “Our goal is to get it up to the 2,000 mark,” Ryan said, “and really build the Minnesota Transportation Conference & Expo into the regional industry event for the entire Midwest.”

Headlines TABLE of CONTENTS

New research aims to make freeway travel times more reliable

By Doug Mack (adapted from MnDOT Technical Summary 2022-01TS)

Graphic: Measures morning and afternoon peak traffic periods.

MnDOT and University of Minnesota investigators analyzed reliability measures in 23 corridors for two time periods representing morning and afternoon peak traffic periods. Image via Crossroads blog

Providing consistent freeway travel times for Twin Cities area drivers requires careful traffic management and well-planned freeway projects. To effectively respond to incidents and identify the most needed renovations, MnDOT traffic managers need to know precisely where, when and why congestion is happening.

As part of MnDOT’s ongoing efforts to make travel times more reliable, the Office of Research & Innovation have partnered with researchers at the University of Minnesota Duluth to develop a software tool to help MnDOT effectively and efficiently identify congestion incidents. The software also supports the agency in identifying and prioritizing future freeway improvement projects.

In a previous MnDOT research project, investigators developed the Travel-Time Reliability Estimation System, which integrates data from multiple sources and estimates reliability measures for specific corridors under various operating conditions, such as weather, incidents and work zones. The tool proved useful in assessing the effectiveness of traffic control and incident management strategies during the 2018 Super Bowl in the Twin Cities. 

Further enhancements were needed, however, to broaden its usefulness and create a comprehensive system that MnDOT traffic managers and planners can use to assess the reliability and traffic flow performance of the freeway corridors. MnDOT can also use the updated software for planning purposes, to develop optimal responses to various levels of traffic, weather and incident conditions and to prioritize corridor improvement strategies. 

“These tools will help us identify not only the most problematic corridors for traffic congestion in the metro area, but the factors causing the problems. The data will be invaluable for our business and planning processes,” said Brian Kary, director, MnDOT Regional Transportation Management Center.

To develop the software, the researchers analyzed reliability measures in 23 corridors for two time periods representing morning and afternoon peak traffic periods. They also analyzed the travel-time reliability trends from 2016 to 2020 of 48 routes on 23 corridors, identified in collaboration with the Regional Transportation Management Center. The researchers used these results, along with other data, to create a “vulnerability index,” which indicates the combined level of reliability and congestion. This index can be used to rank individual corridors for needed improvements or other management treatments; it is also an essential tool for traffic managers and planners as they identify and prioritize bottleneck sections for each individual corridor in the Twin Cities freeway network.

To make the software more broadly accessible to traffic planners and managers, MnDOT will develop staff expertise and process protocols. And the work doesn’t end there—the research team from MnDOT and the University of Minnesota will continue to implement ongoing enhancements and improvements to the operation and maintenance of the software, and conduct further testing and refinement of the resilience model with additional research. 

To read more about this research, visit the Crossroads, Minnesota’s transportation research blog.
Business TABLE of CONTENTS

Updated media policy aims for clearer guidance

By Kiran Sjoberg

MnDOT’s updated media policy went into effect on April 27. This updated policy has several goals, including: 

  • Emphasizing the importance of accurate and timely communications
  • Clarifying responsibilities of communications and public engagement staff statewide
  • Ensuring MnDOT employees notify and coordinate with communications and public engagement staff before they speak to a reporter or member of the media

If you receive a media request or are asked to comment on behalf of MnDOT, it is critical that you consult with appropriate communications staff before responding to a reporter or providing a quote. 

According to Jake Loesch, director of the Office of Communications and Public Engagement, this updated policy is a way to ensure that the right people are speaking on behalf of MnDOT and sharing the most accurate information, and that anyone speaking to the media has the support they need to feel prepared. 

“It is important to remember that we are all ambassadors for MnDOT and must maintain a high standard of professionalism and conduct,” he said. “Even if you don’t identify yourself as a MnDOT employee on social media, our personal behaviors can reflect on our agency and the state of Minnesota enterprise.” 

All MnDOT employees must comply with this policy. Contractors or consultants must not speak on MnDOT’s behalf without preapproval from MnDOT district communications and public engagement staff or the Office of Communications and Public Engagement. 

Business TABLE of CONTENTS

Minnesota Department of Health and MnDOT team up for COVID-19 vaccination clinics

Photo: Mobile COVID-19 vaccination station.

Mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be at rest areas around the state. Submitted photo

The Minnesota Department of Health will be hosting several mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics at MnDOT rest areas around the state in the coming weeks.

The vaccination clinics will include May 26 at Goose Creek Rest Area, June 2 at St. Croix Rest Area, June 10 at Elm Creek Rest Area, June 17 at Forest Lake Rest Area and June 24 at Goose Creek Rest Area. All clinics will run from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Business TABLE of CONTENTS

Holly Kostrzewski given national award for work with TZD program

By Pippi Mayfield, District 1 Public Engagement and Communications

Photo: Holly Kostrzewski

Holly Kostrzewski was honored with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Public Service Award. Submitted photo

Holly Kostrzewski, Northeast Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths regional director, was awarded the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Public Service Award at the National Lifesavers Conference in Chicago earlier this spring.

Kostrzewski began her career in tribal public health as an injury prevention specialist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She was involved in a yearlong program development fellowship with Indian Health Services that brought her to tribal nations across the United States, helping her to build and foster robust relationships with tribal nations. 

She has increased tribal participation in regional TZD workshops and steering committees and has helped with enforcement records. Serving as a presenter and instructor for tribal traffic safety programs and conferences, Kostrzewski has built a longstanding relationship with Indian Health Service and CDC tribal traffic safety programs. She has been a program and peer reviewer for Indian Health Service and CDC Injury Prevention Programs, grants and best practice guides, and has helped develop many tribal safety plans in her almost 20 years in injury prevention.

For the past 12 years, Kostrzewski has worked with Minnesota TZD and has been on the TZD Friend of Advocacy Council for Tribal Transportation. She was the first District 1 and District 2 TZD regional director, building the regional programs and team from the ground up.

Kostrzewski’s award was the culmination of her years of work and list of achievements, among them her efforts to increase seatbelt use. Within the 11 counties of District 2, when Kostrzewski began, the seatbelt usage rate was 68.5 percent – but through her leadership and guidance, the rate climbed to 86.5 percent. 

“I believe collaboration, interdisciplinary partnership and that we can drive Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths,” Kostrzewski said.

Toward Zero Deaths – supported by the Department of Transportation, Department of Public Health and Department of Public Safety – uses a data-driven, interdisciplinary approach to reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths on Minnesota roads. The organization’s mission is to create a culture for which traffic fatalities and serious injuries are no longer acceptable through the integrated application of education, engineering, enforcement and emergency medical and trauma services.


Business TABLE of CONTENTS

New library materials available

By James Byerly, Office of Research & Innovation

The latest issue of New Library Materials is available. This issue features “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  New Library Materials is a compilation of resources added to the library collection during the previous month. Visit mndot.gov/library/stay-current.html and click New Library Materials to sign up. Questions and feedback are welcome at Ask a Librarian.

 
Variety TABLE of CONTENTS

On the Job: Scott Theisen uses rope skills to inspect bridges

By Joseph Palmersheim

Photo: Scott Theisen, pictured underneath bridge L5391 in Cannon Falls, is in charge of MnDOT’s rope access inspection program.

Scott Theisen, pictured underneath bridge L5391 in Cannon Falls, is in charge of MnDOTís rope access inspection program. To his right is Eric Evans, a MnDOT employee who has since retired. Photo by Cory Stuber

Scott Theisen, engineering specialist senior, does in-depth bridge inspections. And to get close enough, he sometimes rappels down the sides of these bridges with a rope and harness.

Theisen is in charge of MnDOT’s rope access inspection program. He provides inspection support statewide for MnDOT and other agencies statewide that inspect bridges. Before joining MnDOT 21 years ago, he did bridge construction and repair work for a private contractor.

How did you end up getting involved with rope work, and what kind of training did you have to do?
There are a few bridges that, due to design features, load restrictions or traffic control considerations, prevent the use of our usual inspection equipment. We needed a way to access these structures for inspections. We identified Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians methodology as an option to access our hard-to-reach structures. SPRAT offers different levels of certification, starting with an introductory one-week course followed by a test to become certified as a Level 1 technician. With 500 hours more, technicians can attempt to certify as a Level 2 technician. With 500 hours past that (for 1,000 hours total), technicians can certify as a Level 3 technician. All SPRAT-certified climbers need to recertify every three years. I am currently a Level 2 technician.

What’s the process of working on a project that involves rope work? How far in advance do you plan?
Our inspection schedule gets planned out in February or March of each year, so we know several months ahead of time which bridges we need to access via rope. The factors we consider include:

  • Work method
  • Risk assessment (including how wind may affect work)
  • Special permits
  • Rescue plan

What do you find interesting about your work?
Safety inspections are an important service we provide for the state. Getting out and looking at bridges all over Minnesota keeps my job from getting boring.

How did you become interested in bridges?
Honestly, it feels a bit as if bridges were chosen for me. When I was in college, I got a summer job at an engineering fabrication shop that made bridge parts. After college, I got a different job, working on bridges. I applied at MnDOT in 2001 to get into a career that allowed for a better work-life balance. I accepted a job in Metro Maintenance, and while I was waiting for a start date, I was contacted by Metro Bridge Maintenance because they saw my resume. I interviewed with Metro Bridge and took a job with the Mendota Heights bridge crew. I was able to take bridge inspection classes and get my team lead bridge inspector certification while working there. Through this process, I realized that a career in bridge inspection was the perfect job for me. I applied for the Central Office Bridge full-time inspection position when it posted 13 years ago and have not regretted the decision one day since.

What are the challenges that come with working up in the air?
Gravity. We tailor our planning, practice and performance so we can safely access to everything we need. It’s about making sure everyone goes home at the end of every day. It is also important to stay physically fit enough to perform rope access whenever we need to.

What are some of the landmarks you’ve worked on?
I had the opportunity to rappel down from the top of the towers of the St. Croix crossing during its in-depth inspection.

For those who might not know, why do we have people do this sort of thing instead of a drone or snooper?
In-depth inspections required us to get within arm’s reach of all bridge parts. A drone can’t do this. If there is a reason we can’t use our usual access equipment, rope access is our next best option.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I love bridges. It brings joy to my life that I have a job that lets me get out in the field using interesting equipment and techniques to look at iconic structures state wide.

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:

 
 
Variety TABLE of CONTENTS

Indigenous Employee Resource Group members attend career fair

By Hannah Broadbent

Photo: Members of the IERG working at job fair booth.

The Indigenous Employee Resource Group attended the Founderís Day Career Fair at Takoda American Indian OIC in South Minneapolis May 19. The fair was part of a month-long series of events across the Twin Cities to celebrate Minnesota American Indian Month. The fair began Thursday morning with an opening ceremony song and food was served throughout the day. There were around 35 vendors in attendance and 82 potential employees visited the IERG booth. Other visitors included Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the Governorís Office Tribal State Relations Director, Patina Park. Pictured: IERG ally Adrien Carretero, and co-chairs Hannah Broadbent and Waubun Smith. Submitted photo

 

 
Variety TABLE of CONTENTS

MnDOT takes STEM education to bridges and schools

By Marcia Lochner, STEM Education and Outreach Program Manager

Photo: Dan Meinen and Joel Schleicher gave students a tour of a snowplow.

MnDOT’s Dan Meinen and Joel Schleicher gave students a tour of a snowplow. Photo by Marcia Lochner

MnDOT’s STEM education and outreach efforts have been in full swing this spring. Here are two recent highlights.

South High School in Minneapolis created a Bridge Club student organization that visits interesting bridges in the area. Ed Lutgen and Alexandra Farraher from the Bridge Office and Marcia Lochner from STEM Education and Outreach gave the club a bike tour of Mississippi River bridges along the West River Parkway bike path on May 16. The MnDOT staff discussed some force basics including compression, tension, bending, shear and torsion, as well as specific history and information about the Lake Street, Franklin Avenue, Washington Avenue, 10th Avenue and I-35W bridges, including the bridge collapse victim memorial.

On May 17, District 3 maintenance staff (Dan Meinen, Joel Schleicher, Chad Stang, Nathan Moscho, and Dale Kuklok) shared information about their careers with 450 Cambridge-Isanti eighth-graders at the Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge. This included some show-and-tell featuring a MnDOT sign truck and snowplow, along with brief presentations on the roles of each in keeping the traveling public safe.

All MnDOT staff can get involved in STEM outreach! Learn more on the STEM page on iHUB.


 
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