Citizens Academy highlights nuts and bolts of Hennepin County Public Works


If you’ve ever wondered what government services your local sales and property taxes pay for, Hennepin County offers sessions twice a year to enlighten interested citizens about some of its most important governmental services. This session’s six classes are held on Wednesday evenings from the middle of September through mid-October at different county facilities. Every class covers a different aspect of Hennepin County government including budgeting, transportation, housing and economic development, environmental services, human services, and corrections. Tours and informational presentations by county government department heads make this a very interesting way to learn about Hennepin County government. This fall I, along with 35 other community members, will be participating in the Hennepin County Citizens Academy. I will be reporting about some of the governmental services Hennepin County provides in the context of many of the questions asked by community members.

Last week I visited the Hennepin County Public Works facility, the public arm responsible for building and maintaining our county roads and bridges. Here I was able to find out the answers to some of life’s more persistent questions about driving in Hennepin County such as: (1) why does it take so long to build or repair the roads especially when it looks like nothing is going on? and (2) How long will the construction be going on, and how can I avoid it?

As I drove out of the Twin Cities to the idyllic rural outskirts of Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Public Works facility, a sprawling 242,000 square foot red brick office complex, could have stuck out like a sore thumb against the rolling hills and willowy prairie grasses of Medina, Minnesota. Instead this architecturally award-winning, “green,” and gently curving building fits harmoniously into the picturesque landscape, hiding the mega-ton snow plows, dump trucks and other work horses of the county’s transportation department. The building is also home to engineers, technicians, mechanics, and other transportation personnel who inspect and repair transportation equipment, do traffic and accident analysis, test the safety of roads, plan and design future roads, and administer and oversee private contractors building of the roads.

According to Harlan Hanson, Construction Division Manager of Hennepin County Public Works, “Roads are built in a sequential manner, literally from the ground up. The time it takes to complete a project depends on its scope, traffic considerations, utility relocations, and weather. The scope is defined by the grading, underground installations, and the retaining walls. Often the most time consuming factors are the things you don’t see such as the underground installations of water mains, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, and signal pole bases. Gas, phone, and electric utilities also have the right by law to move their lines within the construction zone. Rather than detouring traffic around the construction, often the traffic in urban areas is carried through construction zones so people have access to city businesses or their own driveways. Thus they’re only able to work on it half the time.”

If you’re interested in knowing the details about a Hennepin County construction project including the location, duration, detours, and contact number of the construction manager, this information can be found at under Road Construction Locator.