We did it, Southern Minnesota. We endured another winter. Temperatures are getting warmer, birds are starting to sing again, and the sun stays out long enough for us to actually enjoy its company. While I could go on and on singing spring’s praises, myself and my fellow engineers are preparing for the trickier parts of warmer weather. Increased runoff and river water levels, potholes, and an increase in construction are a few of spring’s more unwelcome aspects. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect now that spring has sprung.
Many of us in Greater Mankato live in river towns, full of streams and creeks. As the snow melts and rain starts to sneak its way into the forecast, the water levels will subtly (or not so subtly) start to increase. To combat flooding, our cities and communities have installed stormwater detention ponds. These detention ponds are used to store rainwater or runoff for a designated period of time to help control the speed and intensity that it returns into rivers and streams. If a detention pond is full after rain events, that’s good – it means it’s doing its job. Stormwater detention ponds are also designed to help clean up lakes and rivers by reducing sediment and nutrients. Reducing nutrients from runoff helps make our lakes and rivers cleaner so when you take your boat, kayak, or stand-up-paddleboard out this summer, the water will be cleaner and at a safe and normal level.
Potholes are everywhere, so that must mean that engineers aren’t doing their job, right? That’s not necessarily the case. While we do everything in our power to consider the freezing and thawing of roads during design and construction, rapid temperature changes even during the course of one day can have a major effect on our streets, creating those unwanted potholes over time. Some roads are just older than others, and the contractors and maintenance crews must prioritize what roads are being worked on at what time. We work with some amazing maintenance workers and contractors who are out fixing and maintaining roads during both extremely hot and extremely cold temperatures. We rely on those crews to keep our roads drivable and fully-functioning through all seasons and they don’t get nearly enough credit for the work they do and the hours they put in.
Along those same lines, construction season has started up again. I know, I know, but we have to talk about it – the orange cones are inevitable. While it’s a minor inconvenience for most people when it snows in what are supposed to be spring months, it can cause major delays for contractors and maintenance crews. If the work can’t be done during their allotted hours, they are working overtime – nights and weekends especially – to make sure the project gets done in an efficient and timely manner. I know it can be frustrating, but please be patient. Construction signs are not there just to inconvenience your life – there’s always a result to make your life better when it’s done. A five-minute delay in your commute during construction can end up saving a lot more time in the long run. When you see the orange construction signs on the road, think about the end result and how much better life is going to be when the orange is gone.
With the changing seasons comes, well, changes. Higher water levels, decreasing road qualities, and construction delays all unfortunately come with the territory of living in the Midwest. With these challenges, however, come plenty of opportunities. Engineers are given the task of showing the public what is in the works for their communities, and sometimes our black and white, linear drawings don’t do the trick. Being able to provide colorful maps and 2D and even 3D visualizations to show what will happen after the snow melts, the potholes are filled, and the construction is finished is something we pride ourselves on. Engineering is all about increasing our innovation to make our dry, engineer drawings into something everyone can understand and appreciate and hopefully it will help make these spring challenges more tolerable.
As seen in Connect Business Magazine
By Jason Femrite, P.E., Principal Engineer at Bolton & Menk, Inc.