Freight, Rail and Waterways
Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations
MnDOT’s Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations improves the performance of the multimodal freight transportation system serving Minnesota by planning and delivering freight infrastructure projects, and by ensuring compliance with state and federal regulations.
Multimodal Freight Planning
Unique regional freight issues in District 1 include Great Lakes port activity and capacity, mining, and the timber industry. Major commodities include metallic and non-metallic minerals, coal, and pulp/paper products.
The 2015 Statewide Freight System Plan, under development, will provide the policy framework and strategies to guide investment in various transportation modes that directly affect freight movements in Minnesota. The Plan will support the National Strategic Freight Goals and align explicitly with Minnesota GO, the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan, the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan, and other relevant freight planning documents.
A Pilot Study in Southwest and West Central Minnesota, Manufacturers’ Perspectives on Minnesota’s Transportation System (2014), was conducted to better understand freight customers’ transportation priorities and challenges, and to incorporate their input into MnDOT’s planning and project development. This manufacturing marketing study is being expanded to other parts of Minnesota.
The Northern Minnesota and Northwest Wisconsin Regional Freight Study (2009) focuses on the transportation of raw materials and forestry products, moving over-dimensional loads such as oil field and wind generation equipment, intermodal transportation enhancements (including but not limited to rail container intermodal facilities and transshipment), and storage of marine cargo at the Port of Duluth.
Trucks are an important mode for moving high-value, time-sensitive goods in Minnesota and to regional and distant markets. Trucks move approximately 63% of freight in Minnesota, more than any other mode. Trucks regularly provide the first-mile and last-mile connections to other modes of freight transportation, including rail, waterways, air cargo, and pipelines.
A study of oversize/overweight trucking routes, or OSOW Super Load Corridors, was recently completed to formally designate rotes on the trunk highway system in Minnesota. The intent of Super Load corridor designation is to preserve and enhance roadways for the movement of various over-size and/or over-weight permitted truck loads, such as wind turbine blades and tower sections throughout the state.
The Truck Parking Availability System Study, under development, is a demonstration project testing the implementation and deployment of a comprehensive system to disseminate parking availability information to truck drivers and carriers to improve their operational decision-making along the I-94 corridor west of the Twin Cities Metro Area.
A Truck GPS Study, recently completed, integrates private and public freight data sources to generate freight mobility and reliability measures. It identifies significant data impediments in the Twin Cities Metro and selected rural corridors.
The Commercial Vehicle Operations section within MnDOT implements and administers Minnesota laws and federal regulations governing the for-hire and private motor carrier industry in Minnesota. It works with motor carriers and other commercial transportation providers to enhance the safety and security of their operations and to improve regulatory compliance. Section activities include:
- Reviews of regulated commercial transportation providers and shippers to ensure compliance with safety and hazardous materials regulations;
- Evaluation of applications and issuance of credentials for interstate and intrastate motor carriers and shippers who meet the state’s safety and insurance requirements;
- Provision of technical assistance, educational outreach materials and training (to include online training) to commercial vehicle operators, shippers and others to improve transportation safety, efficiency and productivity; and,
- Evaluation of applications and issuance of single trip and annual permits authorizing movement of oversize and/or overweight loads on the trunk highway system within Minnesota.
Freight rail provides critical options to shippers in terms of market access, modal economics, and service. Minnesota has 4,444 route miles of railroads serviced by 20 railroad companies. The freight rail system is particularly critical in providing efficient connections to markets beyond state borders, throughout North America, and to the world through the seaports on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and the Great Lakes.
The Freight Rail Economic Development Study (2013) assessed the economic impact of freight rail in Minnesota. The study recommends strategies for shippers, railroads, and economic development and transportation agencies to work together more effectively – supporting expanded local rail access, complimentary business development, and improved rail and intermodal service options.
The 2015 Minnesota State Rail Plan, under development, is MnDOT's modal plan for the state's freight and passenger rail system. When completed, this plan will provide an overall framework for effective use of the state’s freight and passenger rail network and its future development. The plan will identify priority rail corridors, programs, and projects that offer effective improvements or expansion for passenger and freight travel in and out of Minnesota. Key tasks include: (1) Detailing Minnesota’s passenger and freight rail improvement strategy, (2) assessing Minnesota’s current rail system demand, and (3) assessing Minnesota’s future rail system demand, which will forecast the state’s ability to handle projected freight and passenger growth. Also, a 20-year forecast will identify trends, needs and issues, and analyze strengths and weaknesses.
The MnDOT Rail Crossing Safety Program is responsible for installation of warning devices at public railroad-highway grade crossings across the state. To date, active warning devices have been installed at over 1,500 of the approximately 4,200 crossings. Most of these projects have been constructed using federal funds with matching state, local or railroad funds. Sources of funding for this program are listed below.
In 2015, three grade crossing safety improvement projects are programmed in District 1, with a combined value of $867,764.
- The federal Section 130 Program provides federal funding (Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration) for upgrades to highway-rail grade crossings throughout the State. Funding is available for projects on all public roadways.
- The federal High Speed Rail Crossing Program provides federal funding (Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration) for safety improvements at both public and private highway-rail grade crossings along federally designated high-speed rail corridors. The FRA has provided limited funding for highway-rail grade crossings in the designated high speed rail corridor from La Crosse, WI to Minneapolis along the Mississippi River.
- The state Antiquated Equipment Program provides state funding to replace existing obsolete highway-rail grade crossing active warning devices (flashing lights and gates). Funding is provided from state General Obligation bonds.
- The state Grade Crossing Safety Account Program provides state funding for smaller projects to enhance safety at highway-rail grade crossings. Projects include circuitry upgrades, minor roadway geometric changes, vegetation removal, and LED light replacement. Funding is provided from State Patrol fines.
The Minnesota Rail Service Improvement Program provides revolving loan funding to railroads and rail users to improve railroad shipper access in the state. Funding has been used recently on rehabilitation of deteriorating rail lines, extension of rail sidings, and construction of rail loading facilities (e.g., grain storage bins, fertilizer storage, and warehouses).
State rail-related regulatory activities include issuing Commissioner’s Orders for the creation of new grade crossings, vacated grade crossings and stop/yield orders at grade crossings. In addition, the state administers a track inspection program in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration.
Ports and Waterways
The marine system connects Minnesota to distant markets, particularly for moving large or heavy, less expensive bulk freight. The Mississippi River System provides direct access to river ports to the south and, via New Orleans, to the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway provides access to ports along the Great Lakes and, via the St. Lawrence River, to the Atlantic Ocean. In 2013, tonnage into and out of Minnesota’s ports on the Great Lakes system (Duluth-Superior, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, and Taconite Harbor) was 58.4 million tons. Tonnage into and out of Minnesota’s ports on the Mississippi River system (Minneapolis, St. Paul, Savage, Red Wing, Winona) was 9.2 million tons.
The Minnesota Statewide Ports and Waterways Plan, under development, will: provide an overview and history of the waterway systems in Minnesota; identify the current use and economic benefits of marine transportation to Minnesota’s economy; define how ports and waterways can inform multimodal planning activities in Minnesota, and; identify strategies to improve effectiveness and efficiency of the marine system serving Minnesota.
The Port Development Assistance Program provides technical support, coordination with ports and the Army Corps of Engineers, and financial assistance for improving port access and facilities in the form of grants to public port authorities. Improvements include road and rail connections and dock and warehouse capital investment. To date, PDAP has provided $25 million in infrastructure improvements for 34 projects at public ports on Lake Superior and the Mississippi River.