Mr. Snowplow created in response to repeated snowplow strikes

A concerted effort was launched in late December amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes around the state.The first vehicle to hit an ITD snowplow came on Dec. 9, and then two more on Dec. 16. When a fourth happened just a few days later along with a couple of incidents where the plow had to run off the road to avoid being hit, the campaign was born. And to personalize it a bit, the caricature “Mr. Snowplow” was created by Justin Smith, the new Public Information Officer (PIO) for districts 5 and 6 (East Idaho).

“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” Smith explained. This included multiple social-media posts, press releases, and interviews with local media. A spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers wrote the poem “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved” and District 1 & 2 (North & Panhandle Idaho) PIO Megan Jahns posted it just before Christmas. The poem is listed at the bottom of this story. The post went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada. The result of the campaign was a much higher awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them. As a result, plow strikes dramatically decreased.

At that point, Smith saw an opportunity.

“I was watching the rapidly growing metrics on the Mr. Snowplow social-media post and noted we were still getting media requests for interviews, handled primarily by District 4 (South-Central Idaho) PIO Jessica Williams. I realized the poem hit an emotional cord with families, bus drivers, truckers, and others. It seemed tome the poem personified the snowplows and really changed how people viewed them – less as an impediment and more as a caring person who worked long hours to keep our roads safe,” Smith said. “I thought that a cartoon version of Mr. Snowplow would help us capitalize on the goodwill of the snowplow campaign. Taking an existing photo and using Photoshop, the snowplow was transformed into a cartoon character and acts as a kind and polite spokesman during our winter safety campaigns.”

“The idea was not to guilt people or try to use scare tactics about danger, but to have a friendly and kind personification. Mr. Snowplow is just a big friendly guy that kindly asks people to drive responsibly,” Smith explained. “Not necessarily a mascot, but more of a spokesman for winter safety. The idea is to make him extremely polite, and gentle so we humanize the plow drivers and help people think of plows as more than just obstacles.”

The entire campaign was innovative for a number of reasons. First, it was a spur-of-the-moment push to address a problem we saw that was a significant safety issue for our drivers and the community. Smith and Jahns worked to immediately get the word out in a way that was more effective than simply saying we had another plow strike. Rather than focus only on traditional media, they used social media as the primary lever to move the public’s perception of snowplows. Jahn’s statewide press release spurred reporters to see the problem as a significant issue, and Smith called local media to let them know we wanted to get the word out about snowplow safety. Newspapers, radio, and television across the state quickly picked up the story and printed or posted stories. There also were numerous comments in broadcast media about snowplow safety when announcers were discussing weather.

The campaign also has spawned Mr. Snowplow coloring pages, and versions of the character that can be modified to fit any specific need, along with a section of white space in the lower left-hand corner where text can be added. Also, Mr. Snowplow was created on a separate layer of Photoshop, so it’s easy to superimpose him on other images.

Here’s the poem mentioned earlier:

Clarissa is the wife of Tim Moon, a five-year veteran with ITD in District 1. She recently authored the poem below as a gift to her husband of 15 years, and the rest of us at ITD sure appreciate her creative messaging. Thank you to everyone who makes our winters safer in Idaho!

Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, please move out of my way.
Don’t you know I’m in a hurry and I’m already running late.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you stop to eat.
My wife is waiting at the restaurant where we plan to meet.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you take a day off.
My street hasn’t been plowed, I’ll call your boss and scoff.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, why do you move so slow.
Don’t you know I’m just trying to get to my family back at home.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, how dare you leave a berm.
Don’t you know I have to take Grandma to get her perm.

Please just take a moment to thank the folks behind the plow.
They sacrifice time with friends and family to clear all the snow.
Without these men and women, traffic would come to a halt.
Just say a little thank you and don’t gripe about the salt.
From the wife of a plowman, things get lonely at home.
Keep us in mind when you want to whine and moan.
In the winter, we spend a lot of time alone.
Next time you see a plowman, give a smile and wave.
Thank them for all the sacrifices that they’ve made.
Excuse me Mr. Snowplow, from your little wife.
Thank you for being a blessing in my life.
I love you Mr. Plowman! ♥

ITD and AGC announce second annual Excellence in Construction Partnering Award winners

The Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and the Idaho Associated General Contractors (AGC) announced this year’s winners of the Excellence in Construction Partnering Awards.

The second annual awards competition was announced in September as a collaboration between ITD Chief Operations Officer Dan McElhinney and Wayne Hammon, CEO of the Idaho Associated General Contractors. Applicants were encouraged to submit for construction contracts completed this year as well as projects still underway.

“These awards recognize outstanding partnering efforts between ITD and the construction industry,” said McElhinney. “Great partnering on construction projects results in the timely delivery of projects, keeping under budget, in teamwork for safety and completion which greatly benefit the traveling public.”

The applications were reviewed by a judging panel of state and local partners and evaluated on criteria related to how well the project:

  • Resolved conflict
  • Improved communication on the project with all audiences
  • Utilized innovative solutions
  • Incorporated team building activities
  • Honored stakeholders
  • Achieved a common goal

The winners were presented with the certificates recognizing the entries earning gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention at the Idaho AGC Annual Meeting on Dec. 8, 2021.

One project was unanimously selected as the ‘Top Gold’ award winner, for its outstanding partnering efforts—the US-95 N Corridor Access Improvements in District 1.

Below is a comprehensive list of the 2021 Excellence in Construction Partnering Award winners:

Highway Historical Sign repair & replacement underway

 
Idaho’s Historical Highway Markers are a unique feature of the Gem State and are a fascinating resource for those traveling on the state highway system. The program was spearheaded by legendary Idaho historian Merle Wells beginning in 1956. Today, more than 270 signs dot the highways, providing a peek into Idaho’s rich history for travelers across the state.

More recently, MacArthur “Mac” Eld, a concerned citizen, realized the need for the signs to be revitalized.  Mac spent eight years visiting every single one of the historical markers, traveling Idaho on his three-wheeled motorcycle. This started as a project to create Christmas calendars featuring the signs, but soon became a quest to document and catalog each sign’s condition.

Responding to Mac’s efforts, in 2019, the Idaho Transportation Department and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) started an effort to update the markers, considering physical condition, text with more accurate and inclusive history, and additional visual details.

“Mac’s presentations to the Idaho Transportation Board really put these signs in the forefront,” said Matt Kriegl of ITD Cultural Resources, who serves as program coordinator.  “Previously, they were often neglected as the department focused on other priorities over the decades.”

Most of Idaho’s signs were installed in the ’50s and ’60s, with additional signs added in the decade leading up to the Idaho Centennial in 1990. Although many have been repaired and replaced over time, there has never been a comprehensive program, so many have not been touched since their initial installation.

All information on Idaho’s Highway Historical Markers is approved by the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) and the signs are installed in coordination with ITD.  Once updated language is received from ISHS, ITD will replace each of the signs. The first sign slated to be replaced is the Ski Lift Marker near Ketchum in Blaine County (pictured above, right).

An online Highway Historical Markers guide, showcasing the signs, their condition, and the administrative processes surrounding them is available for both ITD staff and the general public alike at: https://idaho-highway-historical-markers-iplan.hub.arcgis.com/

ITD staff donate surplus computers to Women’s and Children’s Alliance

several computers on desks

The IT team at District 3 went out of their way to help the Boise community with a recent donation of approximately 40 computers to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance.

L to R: David Adams, Geoffery Moody, Claire Johns

The computers were slated for surplus and would have been sent off to a recycling center. Instead of wasting them the team, led by support technician Claire Johns, found a way to put them to good use. Johns is a volunteer at the WCA and knew the organization was in need of additional computers. 

“These computers are still very operational,” said Johns. “They were taken out of commission because ITD has a three to four year life cycle for computers. Still, they have a lot of life in them. I saw an opportunity to help out a great non-profit and was happy to get support from ITD and WCA.” 

Johns was joined by fellow technicians Geoffrey Moody and David Adams in preparing the computers for donation. The estimated value of the computers is approximately $350. Rick Robinson, the IT Manager for WCA, says the computers are a great asset for the non-profit and is greatly appreciated. 

“We have a shortage of production computers for employee use,” he wrote in a letter to the Department. “We also would like to allocate some for the use of our clients at the shelter.”

“I love it when we have a chance to repurpose our technology to worthy causes,” said ITD Chief Information Officer Mark McKinney.  “The Women’s and Children’s Alliance is a perfect place our older equipment can continue to benefit the citizens of Idaho.”

Johns hopes to keep this partnership with the WCA going into the future. As future technology ages out of ITD’s use, she thinks the WCA will be a great candidate for future donations.

ITD wins trio of national transportation awards signifying industry excellence

The Idaho Transportation Department won three national awards in the AASHTO President’s Transportation Awards, announced Friday (Oct. 29) at the group’s annual meeting in San Diego. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is the national organization overseeing all the departments of transportation from each state in the country.

“Over the past 12 years, the culture has shifted at ITD to a workplace where employees are encouraged to innovate, collaborate, and make decisions as close as possible to where the work is being done,” said ITD Director Brian Ness. “Our team has embraced this philosophy. The end results are award-winning projects that improve customer service for the citizens of Idaho.”

Under Ness, ITD has won 20 AASHTO Presidents Awards, more than any other state in the nation.

ITD won awards in the following three categories this year:

  1. Environment, for Building Wildlife Sanctuaries as part of bridge projects in south-central Idaho
  2. Highways, for Pennsylvania Ave. Overpass project in Coeur d’Alene
  3. Highway Traffic Safety, for I-84 Traffic Corridor Safety and Commerce Enhancement project

Environment award

A pair of bridges constructed on US-20 in south-central Idaho replaced culverts over Willow and Rock Creek, remedied the failing multi-plate metal culverts that prohibited fish spawning and wildlife migration for decades, and restored wildlife habitats and streams for safe fish passage under the highway.  The project also addressed vehicle-wildlife collisions by building animal crossings into the design of the bridges. The Rock Creek bridge section of US-20 saw 64 vehicle-wildlife collisions over the last five years alone. Idaho Fish & Game and ITD installed game cameras to monitor the environmental benefits of the projects, and within a few months, fish were discovered swimming upstream to spawn, and multiple deer (and a moose) were seen traveling along the channels under the bridges.

Highways award (pictured at top of page)

ITD replaced two concrete bridges carrying Interstate 90 traffic over Pennsylvania Avenue in Coeur d’Alene with one bridge. To limit the duration of impacts to the traveling public, the project used Accelerated Bridge Construction (ABC) methods, which simplified construction and reduced the amount of on-site concrete formwork required. The bridge abutments, piers, and girders were cast off-site in nearby Spokane while work proceeded at the site. Several key changes allowed the bridge to be constructed faster and more effectively. For instance, a high-early strength concrete cut more than 60 days of cure time from the overall project. The bridge provides a great improvement for the community and drivers on the primary route through the largest metropolitan area and tourist destination in north Idaho. Additionally, the new bridge design allows up to six traffic lanes on I-90 in the future, if needed.

Highway Traffic Safety award

ITD won this award for the work on Interstate 84 through the Treasure Valley, the most heavily traveled route in the state, which sees more than 130,000 vehicles per day. The work kept travel lanes open and moving, was delivered under budget and on time and utilized a new-to-Idaho method to enhance safety in the construction corridor. That safety provision was a towing service that moved disabled vehicles off the road and out of the travel lanes to keep traffic moving and assist first responders. Law enforcement was averaging 1.5 hours per incident prior to the implementation of the Safety Service Patrol.  The service also saved hundreds of hours for the traveling public and millions of dollars for shippers.

ITD mourns loss of Jan Vassar, first female appointed to Idaho Transportation Board

LEWISTON – Longtime Idaho Transportation Board Member Jan Vassar passed away Oct. 22 at a hospital in Lewiston, the result of sepsis and pneumonia. Vassar was a member of the seven-member board for more than 12 years, serving the District 2 region of Nez Perce, Latah, Idaho, Clearwater and Lewis counties. She was the first female appointee to the transportation board.

“Jan was a great person. She was well liked by staff and her fellow board members for her gracious and humble presence,” said Idaho Transportation Board Chairman Bill Moad. “She brought vast experience and knowledge of transportation issues not just in her district, but across Idaho. Jan was a true professional, always prepared to make decisions on behalf of all Idahoans. She handled her board business with tremendous class and grace. We plan to honor her legacy with a fitting tribute at next month’s board meeting.”

Idaho Governor Brad Little was one of many deeply touched by Vassar.

“Jan was a dedicated public servant who made great contributions to our state and her community. She will be deeply missed by many colleagues, neighbors, and loved ones,” Governor Little said.

Vassar began her tenure on the board about the same time Brian Ness took over as Director of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) in late 2009.

“Member Vassar understood what it took to provide excellent service to the public and was integral to helping ITD achieve all that we have over the past 12 years,” said Director Ness. “Jan was a tremendous advocate for transportation and for the people of this department. I can speak for all ITD employees when I say she will be greatly missed.”

Before serving on the Idaho Transportation Board, Vassar spent 29 years in the public sector, the last 14 of which were as the Lewiston City Manager. She began working for the city as an intern in 1977. Vassar worked on the city’s administrative staff in various positions before becoming City Manager.

“It was shocking to hear the news. I have known Jan for more than 20 years and hold her in the highest regard for experience and knowledge,” said District 2 Engineer Doral Hoff. “She was always friendly, thoughtful and professional. The district will miss her and we send our condolences to her husband, John, and the entire Vassar family. ITD has lost a treasured person.”

Note: A funeral service for Jan will be held on Saturday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. at Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church in Lewiston, 633 5th Avenue.

ITD takes National Title at Snow & Ice event

Competing against the top operators from the region and the country, the four-person team from ITD won the national team title at the 2021 Western Snow & Ice Conference in Colorado on September 29.

The four maintenance men who made the trip were Brandon Steffens (representing the Southeast Idaho region), Jed Henderson (North Idaho), Stacey McCurdy (East Idaho), and Dakota Morgan (South-Central Idaho), pictured left to right, below.

“It was inspiring for me to see the enthusiasm this team of first-time participants brought to the competition; and continued with it to win the National Equipment title,” said ITD Roadeo Coordinator Kelley Dick. “They each did a great job individually, and represented ITD well. It’s about more than a skills competition, though – this just shows that we are providing top-notch service to the driving public.”

ITD’s mastery of skills translates into better service in clearing ice and snow from the highways for Idaho’s drivers.

The department was able to bring four people to the event, rather than the usual two because the pandemic kept ITD from sending anyone last year.

“I am grateful to have the opportunity,” said McCurdy, who made his first trip to the nationals after 26 district competitions.

“It’s amazing to see how well we worked as a team with all of us coming from different districts,” said Morgan.

Along with demonstrating a mastery of skills and knowledge, the event also allows participants to share best practices.

“We are very proud of our successful top ITD Equipment Roadeo leaders representing Idaho successfully this year in the Western States annual event,” said ITD’s Chief Operations Officer Dan McElhinney. “Thanks to them for their commitment to safety and skills excellence.”

Along with the national team title, there were a number of top ten finishes by the participants, adding to ITD’s history in the event.

Longtime Chief Deputy Scott Stokes will take over as new ITD Director next spring

The Idaho Transportation Board announced today Chief Deputy Scott Stokes will serve as the new Director of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) beginning in the spring of 2022.

“Scott has been with ITD nearly 30 years, starting as a staff engineer designing bridges and rising through the ranks of the department,” said Transportation Board Chairman Bill Moad. “The board believes strongly in building and promoting from within and creating career path opportunities for all employees. There is no greater testament to that philosophy than what Scott Stokes has accomplished at ITD.”

Current Director Brian Ness will continue to lead the department and Stokes will serve as Chief Deputy until he takes the helm on May 29, 2022.

“I appreciate what Director Ness has meant to this department the past 12 years. I am thankful for how he has helped me grow during that time and gain the valuable experience needed to lead ITD into the future. I look forward to the opportunity to take what I have learned and guide a department that fosters career advancement, innovation and delivers the best services to the citizens of Idaho,” said Stokes.

“Scott shares my goal of making Idaho’s transportation system as safe and efficient as possible, so we can save Idahoans’ time on the road and facilitate even more prosperity within our state,” Governor Brad Little said. “He is also passionate about providing Idahoans the best level of customer service. With Scott’s extensive experience and strong leadership abilities, one of Idaho’s largest agencies will be in good hands.”

Stokes has served as ITD’s Chief Deputy the past 15 years. He is a leading advocate of the drive to achieve zero deaths on Idaho highways by promoting driver responsibility and accountability. Scott joined the department in 1991 and served several roles, including district engineer in the Coeur d’Alene area for 11 years. He also was the state bridge engineer early in his career.

Stokes will become the eighth director since ITD formed into a statewide transportation department in 1974.

ITD looking for Public Information Officer for East Idaho

If you are interested in working for an award-winning, dynamic, professional state agency with a constructive culture focused on outstanding customer service and continuous employee improvement, we may have the job for you! This opening is an opportunity to use your media relations, writing and collaboration skills to promote the mission of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) as they fill an opening in the East Idaho region.

ITD is recruiting for a Public Information Officer to join the department’s Office of Communication in telling the story of one of the best transportation departments in the country. This position can be based out of our District 5 location in Pocatello OR our District 6 location in Rigby.  Candidates must have strong writing skills, experience interacting with news media, an understanding of how to use social media effectively and the ability to develop successful outreach campaigns, facilitate public meetings and assist with internal communication.
Regardless of which location is home base, this position will travel weekly between District 5 (Pocatello) and District 6 (Rigby).

 

Use either of these links to access the job application:

If you’ll be based in Rigby or eastern Idaho

If you’ll be based in Pocatello or southeastern Idaho

Director Ness to retire from Idaho Transportation Department in spring 2022

Brian Ness, the longest-serving director in the history of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), announced his retirement Wednesday (Aug. 18) after 12 years at the helm.

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Here is a bio of Director Ness’ work history: (https://itd.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Brian-Bio.pdf
Along with personal and professional accomplishments: (https://itd.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Brian-Ness-Activities-and-Honors_2021.pdf)

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“I have had the honor of serving you as your director and I am proud of the many accomplishments we have achieved together,” Director Ness told employees at the Idaho Transportation Board’s monthly meeting in Coeur d‘Alene on Wednesday. “We have transformed ITD into an organization that is credible in the eyes of the public, responsible with taxpayer dollars and focused on improving the employee experience. “This has been the greatest honor of my career, nothing will match what we have done together at ITD.”

Ness personally thanked his wife, Jackie, and family for their support during his more than 44 years as an engineer in the transportation industry. His entire professional career was in public service and included stops at the Iowa and Michigan Departments of Transportation.

“When Brian arrived at ITD, the organization lacked the confidence and trust of the public and Legislature,” said Transportation Board Chairman Bill Moad, “He leaves ITD as an agency that has shifted its workplace culture into one where employees are encouraged to innovate, deliver excellent customer service and exceed public expectations.” Moad added that, “Brian was hired to help ITD become one of the best transportation department’s in the country and now ITD is known as a national leader.”

During Ness’ tenure, ITD streamlined unnecessary layers of bureaucracy, began compensating employees for experience and skill rather than tenure, and focused services on outcome-based results, not processes.

“I appreciate Brian for his many years of dedicated service to the State of Idaho. Brian has worked hard to achieve his vision of helping to make the Idaho Transportation Department an example of efficiency. I wish him well in his well-deserved retirement,” Governor Brad Little said.

The department has received unprecedented funding support from the Idaho Legislature since Ness became director in 2009. This Included House Bill 312 that raised nearly $100-million for highway maintenance on the state system. Additionally, the 2021 legislature passed House Bill 362 into law that directs $80 million toward roads and other projects. The bill, a part of Governor Little’s “Building Idaho’s Future” infrastructure plan, allows the state to bond for up to $1.6 billion for transportation infrastructure projects statewide.

“I want to personally thank Governor Little, the Idaho Transportation Board and the Idaho Legislature for continually recognizing the hard work of our employees and trusting the direction we are headed,” Ness said.

Ness plans to retire in the spring of 2022. The early notice gives the department time to find a replacement and create a smooth transition. Chairman Moad said he will begin a complete national and internal search immediately to find a successor for Director Ness.

“The new director will be a Licensed Professional Engineer. This person will need to advance the award- winning strategic direction of the department and have a strong vision for the future. Needless to say, the new director will have enormous shoes to fill.”

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