The Drive: New website helps Minnesotans 'get connected' to MnDOT

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2014 - 5:09 PM

Minnesota, meet MnDOT. MnDOT, meet Minnesota.

Last year, transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle held town hall meetings across the state to talk transportation and listen to concerns that Minnesotans had about their roads, bridges and rails.

The one-on-one and group meetings generated robust discussions and led to a new website that will keep those conversations going.

With its mission to “improve, meet customer needs, get the most from every dollar, and be transparent about our progress and use of public funds,” MnDOT has launched a new website called Get Connected.

The interactive site is chock full of videos, charts and reports on a wide array of topics, including how MnDOT selects and pays for road projects, how much it spends on snow removal and the importance of having an up-to-date transportation system.

“There are many interesting and sometimes amazing things occurring at MnDOT,” Zelle said. “One of my goals is to make sure that we are telling the story of how transportation works and how MnDOT supports Minnesotans through transportation in a way that people will understand and relate to.”

Spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said one of the most commonly misunderstood topics is the complexity surrounding transportation funding and how that affects projects.

For the record, MnDOT had a budget of about $3 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30. The agency gets its money for roads and bridges from three primary sources: gasoline tax, motor-vehicle sales tax and license tab fees. Federal dollars also help pay for roads and bridge projects, but they often come with specific requirements on how those dollars are spent. Of course, that affects how and when decisions are made.

“All of that is relatively invisible to the public,” Gutknecht said. “They see us building roads or bridges, but a lot of the things we do are complex. It’s good for them to understand the system and that it belongs to all of us. MnDOT is asked to take care of it and keep it working and operating. This is their way to to learn about this significant asset.”

Taking off slowly

So far, the site is off to a slow start with only 2,300 unique page views since it went live three weeks ago. One of those visitors was our neighbor to the east. In a Facebook message, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wrote “Great resource, MnDOT!”

Gutknecht expects Get Connected to become more popular as word about the site gets out. MnDOT will be using its booth at the Minnesota State Fair to promote the site and showcase the information there.

Additional topics will be added based on feedback and questions received from site visitors.

The website has an electronic suggestion and comments box. Scroll all the way to the bottom to find it; Gutknecht promises that if you leave contact information, “somebody will get back to you.”

Agency officials hope the website and outreach efforts such as the State Fair will provide forums for Minnesotans to get answers to their burning questions and put a face on an agency that is often maligned and misunderstood. “We are working hard to push information out,” Gutknecht said.

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