Lee Zion • Lafayette Nicollet Ledger
Matthew Marzinske is in the driver’s seat as he gets a tour of MnDOT’s high-tech snowplow from Cindy Nielsen.
Matthew Marzinske, 6, got to be in the driver’s seat of a massive snowplow last week.
As his parents watched, he sat behind the steering wheel of DNR’s equipment while DNR spokesman Cindy Nielsen showed him all the latest bells and whistles. Elsewhere, youngsters were trying to build a bridge with the equipment provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
People also got to look at maps of the planned Highway 14 bypass from Nicollet to Courtland. And there were plenty of hot dogs and chips for the visitors.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation held an open house Oct. 2 to show off its new $3.5 million facility. The station, just off U.S. Highway 14 on Zieske Road in Courtland, replaces a building that sat near the intersection of Highway 14 and State Highway 15.
That building had to be torn down since it was right in the path of construction as the state makes safety improvements to the intersection. Also, the new facility doubles the capacity of the previous building, said Tony DeSantiago, spokesman for MnDOT.
Already, the new station has an additional snowplow, and the plan is to bring another plow in. This will be a tow plow, which can follow behind the main plow and clear another lane at the same time, he said.
Trucks from the Courtland facility will plow the roads all the way north to Winthrop, south to Madelia, east to the city of North Mankato and west to Sleepy Eye.
The wash bay is set up so trucks can drive in and out. Also, the floor is heated, which can get snow off the underside of the vehicle faster, DeSantiago said.
The facility also houses the state patrol, as well.
In addition, the 9-acre property has other benefits. The salt shed, the brine tank and the fuel tank are far enough away from each other that three different trucks can use these three different stations at the same time. At the older facility, these stations were right next to each other, so one truck would be in the way of another truck.
“They had to wait for one another. If one was putting salt on, the other one couldn’t get to the tank. If one was at the tank, they couldn’t get to the fuel tank,” DeSantiago said.
Also, the storage bins are now covered. For some materials, that doesn’t matter as much. But pea rock, which is used to patch roads, has to be dry, so the roof helps.
In fact, DeSantiago said, on the very day of the open house, road crews handling repairs in New Ulm had to come to the Courtland facility to get pea rock that was dry.
The Courtland facility also has a diesel fuel pump, because there is no diesel fuel in Courtland.
A new shed can house 2,000 tons of salt for the roads — twice as much as the previous station, he said.
That road salt, by the way, is a more high-tech version of the salt on your kitchen table. It’s mixed with Beet Heet, at about four gallons per ton. That helps the salt work better, so it takes 30 percent less salt to do the same job, Santiago said.
“Good for people’s cars, good for the environment, good for everybody,” he said.
Another piece of equipment was a “crash attenuator” — a vehicle towed behind a MnDOT truck. The idea is if people collide with MnDOT equipment, the crash attenuator is designed to crumple and absorb the shock of the collision.
DeSantiago showed off two of them — one “before” and one “after.” A van crashed into one of them and flattened it. The three people in the van escaped injury, he said.
Gary Meinert of New Ulm, one of the people who came out Oct. 2, liked sitting in the driver’s seat of the snowplow.
“It’s got a lot of buttons that would be fun to push,” he said. “The building is impressive. And this is a brand-new truck; they just got it here today. It’s nice to see tax dollars put to work in a way like this, that’s going to serve the public.”