Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Ports and Waterways in Minnesota

A barge.

Commercial waterways

The Mississippi River System

The Mississippi River System stretches over 222 miles in Minnesota and supports five port areas whose combined 2015 tonnage was 11.6 million net tons. The River accounts for over 50 percent of Minnesota’s agricultural exports.

Minnesota’s largest river tonnage commodities are agricultural products such as corn, soybeans and wheat. In 2015, Minnesota shipped over 3.4 million tons of grain down the river. River ports also handle other dry commodities such as fertilizer, cement, sand and gravel, salt, coal, steel and scrap metals for recycling. Liquid products include petroleum, caustic soda, vegetable oils, molasses and anhydrous ammonia.

The Mississippi River Navigation System is maintained by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. They dredge the width and depth of the channel to accommodate 9-foot deep barges, and they operate the 29 locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi. The locks are also used by recreational boaters at no cost. The commercial barge operators on the River pay a user fee of 20 cents per gallon of fuel purchased. These dollars are used to pay for half of major federal lock structure improvements.

Minnesota
Annual River Port Tonnage
Port 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
2009
2008
Minneapolis 223,871 573,168 715,599 671,691 645,445 592,404
545,840
781,155
St. Paul 6,887,022 6,315,039 5,273,301 5,551,737 5,247,992 5,160,120
5,071,864
3,469,383
Savage 2,123,201 1,704,930 1,405,947 1,921,603 1,844,711 2,411,361
2,777,677
1,705,650
Red Wing 684,935 433,840 532,891 836,497 924,060 807,021
735,417
631,870
Winona 1,707,910 1,700,883 1,258,783 1,697,955 1,969,712 1,922,462
1,672,630
1,573,239
Totals 11,626,940 10,727,859 9,186,521 10,679,483 10,631,920 10,893,368 10,803,428 8,160,297

•Annual tonnages will vary due to seasonal flooding, freight rates and foreign grain demand

Lake Superior / Great Lakes / St. Lawrence Seaway

Minnesota has four ports on Lake Superior including Taconite Harbor, Silver Bay, Two Harbors and Duluth/Superior. Their combined waterway tonnage for 2015 was nearly 57.1 million tons. World steel production is improving, which is increasing taconite demand on the Great Lakes. Great Lakes taconite shipped from Minnesota amounted to 37.6 million tons in 2015. Taconite amounted to 66% of Minnesota’s Great Lakes tonnage in 2015. Taconite is mined in northeast Minnesota and shipped via the Great Lakes to steel mills in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Western coal is the second leading commodity shipped from Duluth/Superior in 2015 at 13.3 million tons

Other commodities handled by the Port of Duluth/Superior include grain, cement, salt, steel, limestone and wind generator components.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers operates three of the 16 locks on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway and maintains a 29-foot deep channel throughout this system. The Canadian government operates and maintains the other 13 locks.

Ships that operate only on the Great Lakes are called “Lakers”. Some of the Lakers range to over 1,000 feet long, 105 feet wide and have a capacity of 65,000-70,000 net tons at 26’6” draft – the maximum draft allowed. Since 1999, lake levels on the Great Lakes System have been low, primarily due to drought, which has restricted ship tonnage by as much as 6,000 tons per trip. Less tonnage per trip results in higher freight costs per ton, both to the carrier and to the shipper.

Minnesota
Annual Great Lakes Tonnage
Port 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
2009
2008
Duluth/Superior 32,867,924 37,552,802 36,701,017 36,673,052 37,101,554 39,804,806
31,210,918
45,640,001
Two Harbors 15,769,132 14,141,124 16,791,032 16,547,843 16,070,740 13,892,225
6,222,014
13,302,382
Silver Bay 7,911,368 4,986,169 4,459,217 7,142,154 5,818,286   6,617,247
3,384,622
7,217,823
Taconite Harbor 629,500 622,890 480,383 657,700 806,000  663,934
709,108
895,868
Totals 57,177,924 57,302,985 58,431,649 61,020,749 59,796,580 60,978,212 41,526,662 67,056,074

•Annual tonnages will vary due to low water, ice conditions and commodity demand