Avoiding Vehicle Pileups

By DJ Sosa, Sr Project Manager, WSB

When winter storms sweep across the nation, dangerous road conditions can cause crashes, pileups, and leave commuters stranded for hours on end. How can road design play a role in making roads safer in the winter?

When roads are designed, many elements, such as drainage and flooding, are considered. Unfortunately, snowdrift prevention is often overlooked until after these disasters occur. What’s more, even long after snowstorms are over, snow can get blown back onto the roadway, requiring agencies to plow or push back the snow to clear the roadway. Significant snow accumulation, particularly on a “heavy” snow winter season, drives up maintenance cost for these agencies. Snow drift problems typically occurs on long, flat, rural stretches of highway. To create a snowdrift prevention plan, designers start by analyzing the terrain on both sides of the road. Determining how and where the snow is being picked up and drifted back onto the roadway is important in choosing which solution best suits the road.

Using that analysis, the following three options should be considered for minimizing snowdrifts and avoiding dangerous pileups:

Option 1: Wider Ditches

If there is adequate space, the best option is to have a wide ditch next to the roadway to create a “bowl” effect. These are ditches that serve as another area to capture the snow. Since roads are typically higher than the ditches, it blocks the wind and prevents snow from blowing back onto the roadway. This option requires a lot of room and typically involves additional right of way. If feasible, it is the top choice due to cost and maintenance. 

Option 2: Living Snow Fence

A living snow fence consists of trees, shrubs, or hay bales along the roadway. Farmers can work with their local department of transportation to line the road with hay bales, providing a cost-effective solution to block the wind from stirring up snow from the fields and on the roadways.

Option 3: Structural Snow Fence

This option looks like a robust version of a vinyl fence used for backyards that acts as a direct wind block. These fences often require coordination with property owners because they typically are on private property and outside of public right of ways.

These above three tactics can work for many roadways, but too often they are built reactively and only after a number of crashes, pileups, and other dangers already occurred. All options require room, more often, outside of public right of way. This requires transparent and consistent coordination with nearby residents. Discussions of the benefits for each tactic is key for the residents to allow any mitigation measures in the property. Because many Midwest states see snow for one-third to one-half of the year, agencies must be more proactive, many are now incorporating these tactics into their original planning and design. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, for example, is currently working on major interstate highways in rural locations and are including analysis of the corridor as part of the project. They have a whole department dedicated to working on snowdrift prevention.

Driver safety in winter is important and proper snowdrift prevention design can go a long way to saving lives, preventing crashes, and making roads safer for all of us. WSB’s transportation team can help advise on ways to make roads safer all year round.

DJ has been a quality manager and a senior project manager in transportation, both in preliminary and final design, for over 15 years. Prior to joining WSB, DJ was a design engineer and project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and has managed or been part of a wide range of design-bid-build transportation projects.

[email protected] | 763.762.2817

Metropolitan Council 2022 Regional Solicitation Grants

By Mary Gute, Sr Transportation Planner, WSB

The Metropolitan Council’s 2022 Regional Solicitation process is now open. Please review the information below if you are considering submitting a project application or are wondering if a project is a good fit for the program.


  • Due Date: April 14, 2022
  • Funding available in three main categories: roadways; bicycle and pedestrian Facilities1; and transit/travel demand management (TDM)2
  • Projects can only be submitted in one category
  • See the Metropolitan Council website for more information: https://metrocouncil.org/Transportation/Planning-2/Transportation-Funding/Regional-Solicitation.aspx

How much funding is available? Does this include new federal infrastructure funding?

The Metropolitan Council initially identified $180 million for the 2022 solicitation. With the new federal infrastructure bill, the Council anticipates an additional $10-$20 million will be available. It is likely that federal funding will augment the available Regional Solicitation funding in future years, but not confirmed.

What can funding be used for?

  • Up to 80% of construction costs; a 20% local match is required
  • Construction only; Funds CANNOT be used for studies, preliminary engineering/design, construction engineering, or right of way
  • Projects that are to be constructed in 2026 or 2027; applicants will be asked if their project(s) could be programmed earlier

What Makes for a Good Project?

Successful projects must meet all qualifying criteria. Projects meeting several prioritizing criteria and demonstrating a high level of project readiness will score higher.

Qualifying Criteria – RequiredPrioritizing CriteriaProject Readiness
• Consistency with regional plans
• Inclusion in local plan or program
• ADA compliance – ADA Transition Plan
• Accessible/open to the public
• Permanent improvement independent utility
• Role in regional transportation system & economy
• Project usage
• Equity and housing elements
• Infrastructure age
• Congestion reduction/air quality
• Safety
• Multimodal Elements/ Connections
• Risk Assessment
• Cost Effectiveness
• Public process with residents, interested stakeholders
• Project layout
• Review of Section 106 Historic Resources
• Right of way acquisition process, if applicable, or knowing no additional right of way is needed
• Railroad right of way agreement, if applicable

What is the likelihood of a project receiving funding?

This program is highly competitive with requests far exceeding available funding. In the 2020 solicitation, 130 project applications were submitted and 56 (43%) were funded. Projects were funded in all seven metro area counties, in twenty-six cities and townships.

What is the level of effort to complete an application? Is it worth it?

These applications are moderately complex. Some elements require considerable lead time (e.g., preparing a layout; public engagement activities, etc.). Applications started early are generally higher quality than those that are completed towards the end of the solicitation process.

Federal requirements must be met on selected projects (e.g., federal environmental documents, federal and state design, and construction requirements, etc.). WSB advises that applicants request at least $500,000 to make going through federal process(es) worthwhile for financial reasons.

If you are considering submitting a Regional Solicitation application or want to discuss whether a project is a good fit for the program, please contact Mary Gute.

1: To be competitive, multiuse trail and bicycle facility projects should be on the Regional Bicycle Transportation Network (RBTN); Safe Routes to School (Infrastructure), projects should be included in a completed Safe Routes to School Plan and/or engineering study.
2: Transit funding is usually awarded to transit agencies.

Mary has 20 years of progressively complex transportation planning and project management experience, gained from working on a variety of transportation projects for modes including roads/bridge, transit, and trails. Several these projects have included environmental documentation considerations – either pre-NEPA, or through NEPA and/or MEPA processes.

[email protected] | 612.741.7055

Construction Health & Safety Compliance

Supply Chain Woes and Construction Projects: Thinking Creatively to Overcome Barriers & Adjust

By Michael Rief, Sr Vice President of Construction, WSB

The supply chain is tightly integrated, and when one part of the supply chain faces issues, it can have a domino effect. For those working in construction, supply chain problems have caused project delays, a long wait for and lack of key materials, and frustration over the past year. Unfortunately, it shows no signs of improving in 2022.

With a shortage of labor, shipping delays, and trouble getting materials, we should prepare for our recovery to take longer than many people anticipated. As our industry continues to tackle supply chain problems, there are things construction teams can do to anticipate, innovate, and adapt to the current situation.

Be Flexible Where You Can

Flexibility is key to adapting to supply chain uncertainties. While many contracts require specific materials, if clients and contractors can build some flexibility into the contract to use alternative materials, it’s more likely that a project will be completed on time or without significant delays.

For example, some of WSB’s transportation contracts require a certain kind of seed mix, but those seed mixes may not be available for many months or at all into the foreseeable future. Allowing a substitution that is available and still meets the needs of the project allows us to finish the job sooner and more efficiently.

Consider Buying Hard to Procure Items Sooner

This applies to both construction teams and clients.

If municipalities are planning a project where they know they will need to procure certain items that may be hard to come by, doing so early and paying to store it may be more efficient in the long run and ensure your project won’t face unnecessary delays. Similarly, some contractors are procuring high-risk items and pre-purchasing material for clients, working in storage cost to help prevent delays.

Additionally, as more contractors buy materials in advance, they sometimes find they need to move materials around to different projects that face more critical needs or that have tighter timelines. Being flexible when possible can benefit both contractors and clients.

Manage Risk

With every project, it’s important to manage risk. If cities or contractors purchase hard to procure materials in advance or in bulk, and then find the value goes down in a year, they could be stuck paying to store a material that is worth less than what they paid for it. Each will have to make decisions that work best for their needs and anticipated projects.

Furthermore, building risk management into contracts can be helpful. Whether it’s procurement of materials or more flexibility on timing of projects, thoughtful contract terms can help both cities and contractors, mitigating some risk.

A great example of mitigated risk in many current construction contracts is a provision for fuel cost escalation. If the cost of fuel goes up significantly after a contract is signed, a client may pay more to cover fuel costs. Similarly, if it goes down significantly after a contract is signed, a client may recoup some of those savings. Thinking about how contracts can offer more flexibility in ways that adjust to supply chain and labor issues is something that could offer substantial benefit to all parties.

Since supply chain issues, labor shortages, shipping slowdowns, and numerous other factors are expected to continue creating challenges for the construction industry over the next year, innovation, flexibility, and adaptability can help keep projects moving forward for clients and contractors.

Michael Rief

Mike has nearly 30 years of experience in civil engineering, with an emphasis on pavements and materials, pavement management, quality management, project management, design, risk assessment, project controls, contract administration, construction, preventive maintenance, planning, education, and technical team supervision. Mike has managed several complex, high-profile projects throughout Minnesota.

[email protected] | 612.518.829

Shannon McGrath joins WSB as director of asset management planning

McGrath will focus on development and implementation of asset management programs.

Design and consulting firm WSB announced today that Shannon McGrath joined the organization as director of asset management planning. McGrath joins the firms Minneapolis office where she will lead WSB’s development and implementation of infrastructure asset management for government and commercial clients.

McGrath has over 11 years of experience in the transportation industry. In her new role, she will develop and recommend asset management planning and strategy to minimize total cost of ownership, manage risk, increase reliability and resiliency, and meet performance standards throughout WSB divisions. McGrath’s expertise will allow her to communicate the asset management framework to key team members, field personnel and WSB clients.

“Shannon’s expertise, relationships and experience delivering strategic and innovative solutions will be key for both our staff and clients,” said WSB vice president of technology John Mackiewicz. “She will lead initiatives and deliver solutions that drive real results. We identified adding asset management planning as a key need moving forward at WSB and Shannon is the perfect person to lead this service.”

Prior to joining WSB, McGrath was the asset management planning director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). In this role, she directed MnDOT’s agency-wide asset management planning including projects, research, policy, innovation, strategic planning and implementation in collaboration with internal and external stakeholders at the agency. She has also served various roles to aid in advancing asset management statewide and nationally.

“WSB is a leader in the infrastructure engineering industry and the way they deliver for their clients,” said McGrath. “I’m thrilled at the opportunity to partner with an innovative and collaborative team to advance asset management goals and objectives for clients of this fast-growing firm.”

McGrath joins the firm’s technology division but will work across the firm’s broad services areas across the United States.