Thursday, January 26, 2012

Digging for a Story

When I first started at MoDOT, I was surprised to hear someone say they’d spoken with “one of our archaeologists”.


MoDOT is about highways and bridges, airports and barges, bikes, walkers, transit and the like. What was this nonsense about archeologists on staff?

I soon learned that historical research is a vital part of receiving federal funding and permits for construction and building projects. Funds aren’t approved until MoDOT proves it complies with the National Historic Preservation Act.

Tim Porter and Brianne Greenwood work in MoDOT’s Historic Preservation unit. You can think of them as cold-case detectives. They piece together the stories of people and activities from prehistoric times to near-current day periods.

Last week, we found Tim processing artifacts excavated in St. Louis prior to the start of the earthwork for a new Interstate 70 Mississippi River bridge.

The excavated areas were formerly residential, commercial and industrial in nature. Evidence of foundries, factories, homes and parks was uncovered. Some artifacts, like the bottle and china doll pictured here, were brought back to the office for further study.

Piece by piece, Tim and his colleagues are telling the story of those who lived and worked in the area during the 1800s and early 1900s. Find some of those stories here:

Brianne is helping to process artifacts recovered from two sites near the 80-year old North River Bridge west of Palmyra.

The bridge, located on Route 168, is to be replaced this spring. Because it and the nearby archaeological sites are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, data must be collected before construction could start.

Excavations at a site southeast of the old bridge believed to be dated 3000 to 1000 B.C. – known as the Late Archaic period – yielded evidence of people considered to be hunters and gatherers who did not raise crops.

A more recent encampment site located north of Route 168 dated between 500 and 850 A.D. Here, evidence was found of groups of people living in structures much like wigwams, indicating they did not move around as much.

Learn more about the work near the North River Bridge here:

Many thanks to Tana Akright for her contributions to this blog post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Instilling Skills

Aaron Cox instructs MoDOT’s construction and maintenance employees on the finer points of their jobs. He takes care of workers when they are new on the job and when it’s time to review and renew their skills.

Lately, he’s had every five-year old boy’s dream job – crawling around big dump trucks while instructing the folks who drive them for MoDOT on how to conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection.

Inspections help identify defects before they become problems.

Just like commercial truck drivers, our folks check headlamps, signals, tires, mechanical and braking systems and such for anything that’s not just right before and after every trip. Aaron reminds employees to monitor the performance and handling of the truck on the road, too.

If they find a hint of a problem, mechanics can take care of it before it becomes expensive to repair or, more importantly, before it results in a crash.

He knows that by keeping our vehicles in good shape, our workers can help folks that share the highways with our big yellow trucks to ARRIVE ALIVE.

The little boy that lives inside Aaron thinks that’s way cool.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tweets from the Passenger Seat

This morning, MoDOT Customer Relations Manager Marisa Ellison hopped in the passenger seat of one of our snowplows and gave a running commentary of what she saw in the Hannibal area via Twitter. Here's her account:

Snow plowing is serious business, so when I mentioned to Maintenance Superintendent Butch Mundle I wanted to tweet from a snow plow, he humored me.

Jamie Gottman was my capable snow “chauffeur,” and we took out onto US 61 north of Palmyra January 12 at 7 a.m. Snow was flying, wind blowing, and it was downright cold. Not in the plow, though. I could safely “tweet” the experience in a comfortable, heated setting while listening to country music on the radio. I tried not to distract Jamie; he was excellent at paying attention - and you have to be in a snow plow. I tweeted “there are several controls used in the cab, such as one for the gears, one for the blade, and one for the wing plow.” I forgot to mention the spreader control panel on the dashboard that distributes salt and other chemicals from the bed of the dumptruck. Jamie never missed a beat, or an intersection, or a shoulder.

We saw several accidents, which wasn’t surprising considering it was the first time many drivers had been in snow this year. I tweeted about one accident, which had traffic backed up, then tweeted about the next accident right up the road. Emergency responders had their work cut out for them in the frigid temps. But so did Jamie. Because the crashes caused traffic to stop, the unused lanes ahead were quickly covered by snow. Then it started snowing harder. Jamie made quick work of those flakes.

Soon, he asked if I was ready to go back to the office, and I was. Tweeting for two hours could have been challenging, yet Jamie and our surroundings kept it interesting. MoDOT's regional and statewide Twitter accounts pick up dozens of new followers with each winter weather event and this morning was no exception. I hope our followers found the tweets from a snowplow as educational as I did.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Masters of the Elements

It was made apparent to me in my high school days that a career in chemistry was far beyond my reach. I’m thankful I had that epiphany before any real damage was done to the school or my classmates.

Yet I’ve always been fascinated by the folks that understand the functioning of the elements. This week, John Bell and Tracy Adams, two of MoDOT’s senior chemists were hard at work, coaxing chemicals to provide answers we need to build the best possible transportation system.

John worked on an emulsion distillation. Yes. John has a still…at work. Only this still removes water from an asphalt emulsion so he can test the properties of the asphalt residue that remains. It’s got to meet stringent requirements to be accepted for use in road building and maintenance. By the way, he does not recommend drinking the results of the distillation. Ewww.

Tracy used three solutions to calibrate the pH meter before testing rock samples submitted as potential backfill material on an upcoming project. Her testing would reveal whether the acidity/basic level of the minerals in the rock will interact well with all of the other materials used on the project. Yes, road building needs to be that scientific – if you want highways, runways and other structures to last.

It’s always interesting to peek around the corner and see who does what at MoDOT. What wonder will we find next? Check back to find out!