Feb. 17, 2021
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Latest snowplow hit serves as reminder to ‘Stay back, stay alive’

By Anne Meyer

A semi-tractor trailer rear-ended a MnDOT snowplow on Interstate 94 near Woodbury Feb. 4. Fortunately, the crash did not result in serious injuries.

MnDOT social media pages shared traffic camera video of the incident to support the agency’s “Stay back, Stay alive” safety messages, which encourage drivers to slow down and give snowplows plenty of room to work.

Motorists have hit at least 30 MnDOT snowplows this season. Eighty-one plow hits occurred last season, and 167 hits in the 2018-19 winter season.



COVID survey report provides glimpse into workplace impact

By Joseph Palmersheim

As MnDOT closes in on the first anniversary of unprecedented change, a new report is shedding light on how the past year has affected staff.

Nearly 63 percent of agency staff responded to a 28-question Employee Work Environment Survey last fall (Aug. 28 to Sept. 21, 2020). This data, used to create the recently released COVID-19 Pandemic Impact Report, asked employees questions ranging from technology issues to work-life balance.

According to Matt Damiani, division business manager, part of the goal with the survey was to gather employees’ experiences and feedback into one place.

“The DBMs and other management were hearing feedback anecdotally, like from employee to manager, which makes it hard to fix anything if you don’t know who it affects or how widespread the issue is,” he said. “As COVID was beginning and we started spending time at home, various issues were popping up. We brainstormed the best way to get a handle on what the situation was, and decided to ask employees for their feedback directly.”

Responses were roughly split between those working at home and those in the field, with about 600 employees reporting a combination of both.

Knowing who was having issues connecting allowed for problem solving, Damiani said.

“We identified things we could adjust right away, like some of the questions we were getting about barriers to do your work right now,” Damiani said. “There were barriers like not being able to connect to the network. With some folks, we got their information to the Mobile Devices Unit to provide them with alternatives when they didn’t have good internet at home, especially people who may be outstate. In the Twin Cities metro, you take for granted that everyone has access to good high-speed Internet. Outside of the metro, that’s not a given.”

Here are some other key takeaways from the Telework section of the report (2,071 responses):

  • The majority of employees reported having what they needed to do their jobs. The most common IT need identified as printers/scanners at home (20 percent)
  • When it came to the telework experience, the most common challenge reported was “Reduced interaction with coworkers,” identified by 41 percent of respondents. The second was “Lack of physical movement” at 30 percent, followed by “Communication with coworkers is harder” at 24 percent.
  • Nearly 61 percent of teleworkers reported that their experience had slightly or significantly improved in the three months before the survey.
  • Nearly 69 percent of respondents indicated that they would be more likely to stay at MnDOT if they could continue to telework long term

Other key takeaways from the Field/Office/Lab mix section of the report (1,835 responses) include:

  • Nearly 60 percent of field employees reported they do not have concerns with the absence of coworkers at the work location. There is still concern for additional COVID-19 exposure with additional employees returning to the work location.
  • Nearly 22 percent reported concerns with delays in important work tasks due to employee absences, with 17.8 percent reporting concern about access to resources to complete tasks
  • Nearly 56 percent of field employees reported that it had been more difficult to do their jobs since the pandemic, while nearly 11% found increased efficiencies
  • More than 55 percent of field employees reported no need for additional safety measures at work locations.

The survey asked all employees about how MnDOT has responded to COVID-19 and its impact on their work. Of the 78 percent of people who responded to these questions, more than 70 percent of the comments received were favorable, with the rest being neutral or expressing concern.

Favorable feedback included:

  • Predominantly minimal impact to employees
  • Positive affirmation for working at MnDOT
  • Appreciation for flexibility and ability to telework
  • Increased productivity (predominantly for teleworkers)

Concerns included:

  • Employees reporting to field positions feeling undervalued
  • Public engagement and collaboration being more difficult
  • Isolation while working from home
  • Increased workload due to employees being out on leave

“We really tried with the survey to get a hold of what employee concerns were,” Damiani said. “Hopefully, people feel like they’ve been heard and they are seeing action happening. It was a lot of data to get through and a lot to get the ball rolling, but hopefully they are seeing results, seeing things being improved upon, feeling like this process is giving them an opportunity to express what their concerns and needs are. We’re trying to implement changes that need to happen and hear what people’s preferences are that could help shape the future for after the pandemic. It wasn’t just a, ‘Hey, we asked for everyone’s opinion and put numbers on a piece of paper and shelved it’ kind of thing.’ We really are trying to make improvements based on the feedback.”

Several upcoming Lunch and Learn sessions will cover results from the survey. The Employee Environment Survey presentations will take place on the following dates and times:

Note: The Teams link will allow the first 350 participants to enter the meeting.



More Road Weather Information Systems deployed in western Minnesota

By Anne Meyer

Photo: An RWIS unit near a roadside

MnDOT plans to install more RWIS sensor stations, like this one on I-90 near Lakefield, throughout the state within the next three years. MnDOT file photo

Seventeen new Road Weather Information Systems went live on MnDOT’s 511 traveler information sites this month to help give important information to Minnesota motorists.

RWIS, an environmental sensor station, collects weather data like atmospheric parameters, pavement conditions and visibility. This information feeds into MnDOT’s Maintenance Decision Support System to help snowplow drivers determine the best plans of action for each route before, during and after a storm.
The plow drivers aren’t the only people who can use the information.

“We also share much of this weather data on 511 because it can help motorists make the best decisions for their travel,” said Jon Bjorkquist, project manager. “The more sites we have statewide, the better our weather data will be for our snowplow drivers and the traveling public.”

Bjorkquist says the National Weather Service and other area forecasters also use the RWIS sites to get “in the field” data about current conditions to improve their weather reports.

The new RWIS sites in western Minnesota are part of a three-year, $3.5 million expansion project. Crews will add 14 more sites will be built this spring in districts 6, 7 and the Twin Cities metro. Another 22 sites are planned for this summer in districts 1, 2 and 3.

MnDOT will have more than 160 RWIS sites statewide when this project is complete.



New planner sources all things safety-related

By JP Gillach

Photo: MySafety icon

Coming soon to all MnDOT computer desktops: the new “My Safety” icon, which links to MnDOT’s new online Workplace Safety Planner. The icon allows quick access to safety information and resources.

Have a question about safety? Need a toolbox safety meeting topic for a work group? Want to see what’s new with safety, wellness or ergonomics? MnDOT’s new online MnDOT Workplace Safety Planner has information and tools to help keep employees safe and healthy.

MnDOT created this planner in response to 2017 and 2019 safety perception surveys showing that employees wanted clearer communication, transparency and accessibility to workplace safety resources.
“People explicitly asked us to create a centralized source of all things safety-related,” said Keith Juliar, safety director, Office of Administration. “We received many requests to set up a safety website, requests for easier access to safety forms, and many people wanted tools to help evaluate their workspaces and routines for safer ways to work, including ergonomic tips.”

The easiest way to access the planner is through the new WPS icon that will appear on every MnDOT employees’ desktop next week. By double-clicking the icon, MnDOT employees will be able to access MnDOT’s Safety Recognition Program, incident reporting (eSAFE), COVID-19 resources, safety directives, safety dashboards, wellness resources, ergonomics and more. The site also lists upcoming events with safety resources and information, like Burn Awareness Week in February, Flood Safety Awareness Week in March, and Distracted Driving Awareness Week in April.

“We’re excited to launch this site and provide the resources MnDOT employees are asking for,” said Rod Starkey, MnDOT safety culture coordinator. “Thank you to everyone for taking the time to complete the safety surveys and helping identify these resources. That information is invaluable to improving how we all work together safely every day, and build MnDOT’s safety culture.”

For more information or provide input about the WSP, contact Keith Juliar or Rod Starkey.



Business Data Catalog harnesses knowledge about all things MnDOT

By Joseph Palmersheim

Have you ever wondered what “enplanement” means?

That word, meaning “The act of a fare-paying passenger boarding an aircraft,” is among 4,150 terms and definitions in MnDOT’s Business Data Catalog.

The interactive application, launched in 2012, stores and publishes descriptive information about MnDOT's data assets and supports the department's information governance efforts.

BDC content is organized by broad categories called “data domains.” These nine domains (Business Stakeholder/ Customer; Financial; Human Resources; Infrastructure; Planning, Programming and Projects; Recorded Events; Regulatory; Spatial; and Supporting Assets) are sub-divided into 110 “Subject Areas” and managed by data stewards.

Users can browse the BDC by domain, subject area, or search by keyword to discover metadata. This descriptive information helps employees understand the business meaning behind attribute names, find out where records should be stored, learn about business applications, and obtain contact information for subject area stewards and application coordinators.

Given all that MnDOT does, the BDC can be a helpful reference source for new employees trying to take it all in, Boardman said, especially given the alphabet-soup nature of some of the work.

“New employees can find definitions for acronyms and business terminology in the BDC, as well as contact information for subject matter and application experts,” she said. “MnDOT’s major business applications are also listed in the BDC with descriptions and usage details. The BDC shows how MnDOT’s various business units are inter-related through their associations with data subject areas.”

Creating and maintaining the BDC isn’t a one-way process.

“Because the BDC is a metadata repository, it attempts to harness all of the knowledge about all things MnDOT,” Boardman said. “It unites data with context in an organized, searchable platform. As the BDC evolves, we envision enhanced features and richer ways to expose data to users. User input is vital to ongoing improvement.”

Anyone can request new entries or inquire about existing entries by contacting Angela Boardman or emailing



Winter Research Lightning Talks program to offer blizzard of information; annual call for research opens

By Micaela Resh, Office of Research & Innovation

Photo: a snowplow

The implementation of lane boundary guidance systems for snowplow operations is the topic of one of several upcoming Lightning Talks. MnDOT file photo

The Office of Research & Innovation and Office of Maintenance are hosting Winter Research Lightning Talks from 2-3 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, to introduce staff to some current research projects.

The event will include five-minute presentations from researchers about the following projects:

No registration is required to attend. Use this link to join the Teams meeting.

Annual call for research ideas now open

MnDOT’s Office of Research & Innovation is seeking innovative research ideas to improve transportation in Minnesota. To be considered, submit a brief summary of the idea by March 15 on

What's Next? 

Each year, MnDOT funds a number of studies to improve how it does business, such as testing alternative deicing methods, developing pavement design tools and finding new ways to repair bridges.

Research ideas received by March 15 will be reviewed and prioritized by MnDOT’s Research Steering Committee and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, which represents cities and counties.

In July, MnDOT will invite universities to propose on top-ranked ideas. Final funding decisions will be made in December. Watch this webinar to learn more.

Other Assistance

Don’t need a full-scale research project? The Office of Research and Innovation might be able to provide other assistance, such as helping pilot new technology, conduct a national state-of-practice survey or participate in a multi-state research study.


Visit or contact our staff for more information.



New Library Materials posted on the Web

New Library Materials are available. This issue features the book “Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM” and other 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. Learn more about how to be added to the distribution list. Questions and feedback are welcome at



Commissioner to speak at 'human-centered design' event

Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher is joining two fellow state agency commissioners in a lunch-hour conversation about human-centered design from noon to 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 26. Human-centered design is a creative process for solving problems.

Learn about human-centered design and why it's important, and hear from state leaders on how it could be incorporated across state government. MNIT's Commissioner Tarek Tomes will also speak, along with Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove.

IT Services will be broadcasting the conversation using Microsoft Teams live events. Find more information about accommodations and add the event to a calendar.

What is human-centered design?

The approach is centered around people – bringing stakeholders into the conversation from the beginning and building solutions that meet their needs. Human-centered design is all about empathy, about brainstorming a lot of ideas, about trying those ideas on and co-creating with stakeholders to build innovative solutions that achieve results.

Why does it matter?

  • Leverage new tools to help meet Minnesotans’ expectations for a smooth digital government experience that works for all .
  • A human-centered approach can facilitate better engagement, increased buy-in and more innovative solutions.


Reach out to Kirsten Lidyaev, planning director for Minnesota IT Services.



On the Job: Krisann Olsen enjoys the rush of plowing snow in a storm

By Rich Kemp

Photo: Krisann Olsen

Krisann Olsen. Photo by Rich Kemp

Krisann Olsen has driven snowplows for 14 years. Olson, a transportation generalist, works maintenance in the Oakdale truck station.

What do you work on in the winter when you aren’t plowing snow?
We do cleanup after a storm, so I operate the tractor with the blower. What happens during a storm dictates what we may do. If there are a lot of hits, we will repair cable median barriers and guardrail. We also cut trees and patch the roads.

What do you do in the summer?
I was on the striper crew last summer and I will do that again this summer. There are so many jobs that you can do. I have also worked in the shop and been on the mowing crew.

What do you like about your job?
The benefits are really good. I also like the variety. You can get trained on a lot of different things. If you want to go to construction, bridge or go somewhere else, there are pathways. You can move around if you want.

What is the most exciting part of your job?
It has to be when you are out there plowing snow. When it is a really bad storm and you can’t see, it’s like an adrenaline rush. It is hard to explain. It is scary and stressful. The roads are bad, it’s icy, people are in the ditch and I am out there helping, I am doing something. That is what I really enjoy.

What is the most challenging thing?
Sometimes, it is my size. It can be a challenge at times, but the guys here have been really good. I like to do things myself, so it’s hard when you can’t sometimes. When you are plowing, the biggest challenge is the general public. We have to concentrate on our job, looking straight ahead. But I have to worry about people getting too close to me, trying to get between us or in front of me. I think that is the number one challenge for everyone.

How has COVID affected your job?
We clean a lot. We have to clean the truck when you get in and before you get out. The mask wearing was a challenge, but I am used to it now.

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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