Engineering News Record (ENR) Ranks WSB #210 on Top 500 Design Firms List

WSB is honored to be named one of Engineering News Record’s (ENR) Top 500 Design Firms – climbing three spots to #210. For eight consecutive years, WSB has landed on ENR’s nationally ranked list.

Through ENR’s annual survey, companies throughout the United States are ranked according to revenue for design services performed. ENR’s mission is to connect diverse sectors of the industry with coverage of issues that include business management, design, construction methods, technology, safety, law, legislation, environment and labor.

Since WSB was formed 25 years ago, we have been committed to growth.  For over two decades we’ve worked side by side in the communities we live and work in to build what’s next in infrastructure. It’s through our solid partnerships with our clients that we’ve been able to collaborate and solve some of our communities’ biggest challenges. Our growth would not be possible without our dedicated clients. Thank you for trusting us with your infrastructure needs. 

It is always an honor to be recognized amongst our peers. Thank you to our staff who also play a large role in driving our growth. At WSB, we drive innovation through every level and service area, and we’ll continue to find cost-effective and efficient ways to serve our clients in the future.

Click to view this year’s full Top 500 Design Firm list.

A True Game Changer – Traffic modeling for a more reliable commute

By Jody Martinson, VP of Transportation, WSB

Our Traffic Operations team recently developed a large-scale traffic simulation model for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). The current model is used to track vehicle congestion on interstate 94 (I-94), including the 15-mile stretch of highway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, commonly known as one of the most congested corridors in Minnesota.

The I-94 corridor generally supports a high volume of traffic during morning and evening commute times. Travel patterns on this corridor are complicated due to the roadway geometrics and vary with each commuting experience. Drivers risk getting stuck in several hours of traffic congestion depending on their travel window.

Beyond day-to-day commuting traffic, Minnesota roadways have a large amount of freight traffic to consider.  WSB’s simulations help to better understand the origin and destination of freight flows as well as help better identify bottlenecks for freight traffic.  This is important as the freight industry is a vital component to the regional and state economy. When goods are free flowing, avoiding time consuming bottlenecks, the direct impact is noticeable, and Minnesota’s economy becomes stronger.   

The microsimulation tool uses geospatial, Federal Highway Association (FHWA), and other historical data to capture the speed and flow of highway traffic. State-of-the-art software allows us to monitor complex highway and arterial traffic conditions more efficiently while tracking the dynamic interactions between vehicles. Daily traffic congestion is tracked and recorded using heat mapping and other reporting tools. The interactive model depicts several modes of transportation operating during peak commuting hours. Collected data is analyzed for accuracy and applied to determine future transportation planning initiatives.

The true benefit of this technology is our ability to run a higher number of alternatives at a pace the industry has never experienced before.  We can now study ten times the alternatives in under half the time it took only a year ago.  It’s a true game changer for our industry.  And for our partners, they are reaching solutions sooner that are much more economical.  In doing so, we’re saving them valuable time and money.  Ultimately, we’re helping our clients ensure they are allocating their resources in the right places at the right time.

Moving forward, our goal is to continue to leverage the latest technology to identify operational deficiencies more quickly for our partners and help to develop future alternatives that support a more reliable commute.

As Vice President of Transportation, Jody oversees the management and operations of the WSB Transportation group. Jody is the former Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Operations Division and has over 25 years of experience in the delivery of major transportation projects, programs and management of existing infrastructure.

[email protected] | 612.214.7787

 Learn more about WSB’s Transportation Planning services and related projects.

Let’s Keep Moving

By Ron Bray, Vice President, WSB

Much like our economy, our industry has its ups and downs. These are challenging times that no one would have imagined. No industry is immune to economic disruptors, but our collective commitment to bringing stability back to infrastructure project delivery is our differentiator. We can’t predict the future, but we’ve adapted to our circumstances. We have project delivery options to fit specific timelines and needs. Delivering projects faster and getting projects on the shelf for a possible stimulus package will put you in a competitive position to benefit your constituents. Now might be the time to consider Alternative Delivery solutions for your Cooperative Local and Trunk Highway projects. Design-Build projects can advance much quicker than standard Design-Bid-Build projects. Now is the time to chat about this and other funding or project delivery opportunities.

Earlier this month, my good friend and colleague Dave Enblom explored challenges our County Engineers are facing as we navigate the fallout of COVID-19. It’s important for us to think about these challenges and find solutions that bring some stability to our industry.

Making government guidelines work for you

Consider which guidelines are affecting your operations and start implementing new procedures. Legislation or policy change may be needed to make projects work, especially streamlining the environmental permits and process. Determine the skills you need and your goals. Find ways to accomplish these goals and reorganize or reassign teams if necessary. Do you need a bigger team, but can’t make a full-time hire? Consider augmenting your staff with a part-time consultant. We can help with project management or any other areas that are understaffed. Use emerging technology to create efficiencies.

Stay connected to your teams and the public

Technology to keep public discussion moving forward is critical, it needs to be customized depending on the area of concern and whether it is a large-scale effort or one-on-one with a project stakeholder. Maintaining a healthy public conversation is vital to securing permits and gaining agency approvals. We’re seeing how team meetings can be done virtually, and face-to-face conversations can and should still occur. Use video conferencing solutions to check-in. Continue public engagement efforts to help guide decision making and move projects forward through visualizations, immersive 3D, virtual reality and augmented reality solutions. WSB’s IT and Technology staff have the expertise to assist you.

Stretch your stimulus dollars

Following past crises, significant dollars were allocated to major, high-priced infrastructure projects. Find ways to tighten project timelines by exploring efficiencies using technology. Consider using advanced data collection or reality capture tools to create reality meshes that work in Autodesk, MicroStation, and GIS. Asset management is being changed through AI systems and efficient collection of data.

Keep moving forward

We know it is going to take a team approach to move projects forward if there is a stimulus package. I have always loved how close the County Engineer’s Association is and how you work together as one voice. This is the time where our collective support of each other will allow each of our organizations to move faster and better together. 

As we continue to work through COVID-19, show compassion to your colleagues and empathy for the challenges they’re facing. Sometimes you’ll act as a resource and other times you’ll need help. It’s in our best interest to work together.

After every economic disruption or crisis, I look for the silver lining. Following the Great Recession, there was more awareness of the importance of infrastructure in our economy, and the need to proactively manage, prioritize, and invest in it. Now and in the near future, we have an opportunity as an industry to show that a combination of emerging technology and expertise will be the future of infrastructure development. We are proud to be your colleagues and we value our continued partnership to accomplish your goals and community needs. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can help in any way.

Be safe, stay healthy, and we will see you soon!

Ron has been a Vice President and Principal in transportation and construction services for over 37 years. He’s experienced with roadways and bridges, planning, traffic analysis, geometric layout, design of roadways and bridges, and constructions services.

[email protected] | 763.287.7177

MPCA Releases Revised Soil Reference Values (SRVs)

Jake Newhall, Senior Project Manager, WSB

In early April 2020, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released revised SRVs for contaminated sediment. These revised values slightly relax regulations placed on sediment disposal.  The graphic below compares the new regulations with the old regulations.

The biggest change is that the B[a]P equivalent for industrial SRV threshold changes from three to 23. This means soil with SRVs between two and 23 can be reused on industrial sites instead of disposed in landfills. Prior to this change, soil with SRVs greater than three were disposed of in landfills.

SRV levels indicate the concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that have accumulated in some stormwater pond sediments around the state. PAHs break down over time and can be transported via stormwater runoff.

The adjustment in regulations creates cost-saving opportunities when managing stormwater maintenance projects.

Jake has more than 15 years of engineering experience designing and managing many types of water resources projects, including modeling, planning, design, maintenance programs, and construction. Jake has worked with various municipalities, counties and state agencies to solve challenging water quality and water quantity problems.

[email protected] | 763.231.4861

Spring flooding expected, new model warns asset managers about potential risks

By Nick Rodgers, Coastal Geomorphologist, WSB

2019 marked the wettest spring on record in the U.S. and with it came extensive flooding, affecting millions of Americans. The National Weather Service just released its 2020 spring flood outlook, predicting that flooding will be above average again. Minor flooding is expected in the spring, but recent warm winters have increased flooding by saturating soils before spring rains arrive. Like 2019, this spring is forecasted to bring above normal precipitation.

Large scale flooding damages infrastructure and displaces people from their homes. The 2019 floods caused millions of acres of farmland to go unused and transported the farms’ fertilizer to the Gulf of Mexico, creating a massive “dead zone” where fish cannot survive. Flooding can cause a “natural hazard cascade” where one disaster leads to more including erosion, landslides, and chemical contamination. The total cost of 2019 flooding is estimated to be $6.2 billion.

Our team at WSB recently developed a flood model to predict flood extent and help asset managers reduce damage to infrastructure. In general, these models can be used to assess risk for specific pieces of infrastructure, individual cities, or entire states. With this new flood model, we help asset managers determine risk by first predicting where flooding is most likely to occur. This information allows us to work with stakeholders to decide which assets are most vital. The process informs asset managers which critical assets are most likely to experience flooding and where flood risk is highest. Asset managers use limited resources to fight a seemingly unlimited amount of water. A strong understanding of risk is vital when deciding how to use limited resources for the next historic flood event. Although we cannot control the warm winters and wet springs that face us, we can control how we respond and prepare.

Nick is an environmental consultant with one year of project experience specializing in geohazard risk assessments, geomorphology, and GIS analysis. His technical skills include developing GIS models for geohazards, client consultation on how geohazards affect public and private assets, data visualization, and expertise in coastal and fluvial geomorphology. His non-technical skills include public speaking, developing client relationships, and project scoping. Most recently, Nick designed a new GIS flood risk model that estimates risk for large areas with minimal data input.

[email protected] | 612.219.9470

Challenges Facing Our County Engineers

By Dave Enblom, Project Manager, WSB

We are in uncertain times. Things change around us daily and those changes are mostly out of our control. Over the weekend, I was thinking about how our county engineer peers and friends are coping. Ron Bray and I were discussing some of the challenges our partners are facing, and we kept coming back to these five things that county engineers should be thinking about right now. This is not a comprehensive list but a place to start. Please share any additional items you’re thinking about as you approach the rest of 2020.    

  1. Understand the guidance being provided from the county board and state regarding operating procedures, such as office hours, office closures, work restrictions etc. How do these new policies affect the operations of the highway/public works department? Are there any modifications that can be made to these new policies that would allow the department to function more efficiently? Most of the new policies will impact other county departments more than highway maintenance, public works, construction projects, and engineering. These departments may be able to continue with minor adjustments to current operating procedures. Don’t be afraid to ask for deviation from the new policies if necessary.
  2. Monitor staff morale and maintain open lines of communication. You may have to do more check-ins than normal, but it’s important that staff hear from you and have a way to provide feedback (challenges, capacity, health, etc.). When communicating, work to address all staff, including maintenance employees, and especially those in outlying shops. To the best of your ability, create an atmosphere of business as usual. We know our road systems had needs before the crisis, and those needs still exist. The better you communicate and keep a healthy staff morale, the more likely you can keep projects on schedule.  
  3. Look for, and plan to, take advantage of any stimulus that comes from the federal and/or state governments. Past crisis situations brought significant money to the county road systems. The crises we’ve navigated in the past were predominantly financial in nature, while this one is both financial and medical, a double whammy. This could mean even larger stimulus packages. Specifically, look at current capital improvement plans for projects which can be moved up to a one- or two-year-time window. These projects should be larger priced projects, greater than $1,000,000. It’s likely that bridge projects will receive a positive review due to high need and publicity. Don’t be afraid of the federal programming requirements that come with these projects, the consultant industry is ready to help out in delivering if necessary. In the past, counties that planned and took steps to stay ahead of stimulus opportunities were rewarded with funding.
  4. Be proactive and keep in touch with your District State Aid Engineer (DSAE). They should understand items being contemplated by MnDOT and of available funding. It is easier for a county to make one call than it is for the DSAE to make 10 calls. You may get more information from a phone conversation than from an e-mail so consider multiple communication methods. When talking to your DSAE, it is important to confirm existing project funding status and understand if there are any changes coming. In addition, learn more about other funding options available.
  5. Make sure to leverage all resources available to you. From MnDOT to AGC to consultants and the industry, there is a lot of support. We are all in this together. Our industry has always pulled together when times were tough, and this situation is no different. You have more partners than you know, and most are just a phone call away.

Do your best to stay positive and share your optimism in all communications. The highway department will gain energy and action from county engineers. The communities and staff around you are looking for stability and your department can provide progress and a sense of normalcy. It might seem odd that communities look to road work for normalcy, but there is truth there. Our industry will play a big role in getting back to normal. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or if you need more information.

David has over 30 years of experience in the county state aid highway system using an innovative approach to delivering complex projects (including funding), and leveraging his ability to coordinate with a wide range of agencies and stakeholders. He has served as an officer in MCEA where he provided guidance on many policy and technical issues involving various Minnesota counties.

[email protected] | 218.232.3694