Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Transportation and the silica sand industry in Minnesota

What MnDOT is doing

MnDOT is monitoring developments in the silica sand mining industry to allow the agency and partner governments to assess impacts on safety, mobility and road conditions from increased commercial traffic in Minnesota.

The transport of silica sand may involve several modes. Where facilities are not co-located, trucks transport sand from mines to processing plants and intermodal shipping facilities.  From there, trains or barges ship the sand long distances. Processed sand is generally shipped to the end user via rail.

Observed impacts


Increased truck traffic

Truck traffic has increased in some areas due to silica sand activity in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Federal and state roads

County and state systems can handle heavy vehicle traffic.

Generally, the federal and state highway system and most of the county state aid system are designed to handle heavy vehicles like sand trucks that are of legal weight and configuration.

    1. On the federal and state highway system, bridges and roads in the area where silica sand is located are structurally capable of handling traffic at the volumes projected for this industrial growth, without damage or unusual wear.
    2. On the federal and state system, the amount of traffic related to the silica sand industry is a small percentage of total commercial traffic.

Example. On the Highway 43 Winona Bridge, heavy commercial vehicles (HCV) accounted for 9 percent of all traffic in Fall 2012. Of this 9 percent, 15 percent are vehicles carrying sand.

The ability of local road systems to handle large numbers of heavy vehicles varies, but many local roads and bridges are designed for lighter duty vehicles or low levels of traffic. They are unable to carry large volumes of heavy vehicles without incurring damage.

High-volumes of sand-related traffic tend to be very localized and concentrated, with trucks moving on limited routes between the mine, processing and railroad facilities.

Officials have reported relatively little road damage to date in Minnesota, with the exception of some locations in the city of Winona.


Sand trucks have the same potential

for conflict with other vehicles.

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Trucks hauling silica sand have the same size and weight as other trucks and have the same potential for conflicts with other vehicles.

A substantial amount of Minnesota's silica sand is located in regions with bicycle, pedestrian and buggy traffic.

Historic, scenic and recreational assets

Scenic byways and state bikeways

wind through these areas.

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The area is rich in natural and cultural assets:

  • Scenic byways, including the federally designated Great River Road National Scenic Byway
  • The newly established Mississippi River Trail state bikeway

Heavy commercial traffic could create conflicts with these assets and the public's ability to enjoy them.

Truck safety and load management

Truck loads must be tarped on all federal and state highways, and on all local roads at speeds above 30 mph.

Railroads transport fully dried and graded sand in covered hoppers to prevent loss and contamination.


Most out-of-state shipments are by rail.
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Most silica sand is shipped out of the state by rail.

Silica sand is shipped in unit trains, typically about 110-car trains.

Local train traffic may increase by a single train every one to three days. Statewide, 2.5 sand trains are added daily to a statewide rail traffic count of approximately 150 trains per day.


Barges transport a relatively small amount of silica sand, approximately 30 barges in 2012.

Regulatory framework


MnDOT does not regulate the number of sand trucks or routes they travel.


A permit from MnDOT or a local government is not required to move this type of freight on a public road, as long as vehicles adhere to legal weight and size limits.

  • Most sand truck traffic operates on federally-funded roads and defers to federal control. States cannot restrict operating authority by commodity type or geographic area
  • Roadway weight limits are established in statute and may be further restricted by individual road authorities (state, county, city) for their own roads
  • Truck weights are checked at state weigh stations and State Patrol (state roads) or local law enforcement (local roads) trucking laws
  • The jurisdiction permitting a sand facility may negotiate preferred truck routing within their jurisdiction as part of the conditions of a sand facility conditional use permit

The jurisdiction permitting a frac sand facility can negotiate operating conditions such as traffic curfews and routes, as well as permit fees, to cover the cost of additional maintenance and roadway improvements within their jurisdiction under recommended best practices.

  • Existing facility permitting practices do not address costs imposed on roads in other political jurisdictions.
Safety is MnDOT's primary concern.
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Ensuring safety for all roadway users is the responsibility of the individual road authority (MnDOT or local), including costs to improve safety. These costs can include construction of turn lanes, separated bike trails, access control and intersection controls.

  • New or modified driveway access to a state highway and many local roads requires a permit from the governing road authority. Conditions of that permit may require traffic safety improvements at each access point.
  • In order to prevent or repair road damage, the local jurisdiction permitting the facility can impose route requirements and require permit fees to cover costs of safety improvements within their jurisdiction.

Load management

Silica sand is classified as a non-hazardous commodity for transportation under federal law.

  • Both federal and state law require that all loads are tarped when transported on trunk highways or at speeds above 30 mph on all other classes of roads.
  • Requirements for covered loads can be enforced by any jurisdiction’s law enforcement officers.
  • All trucks are required to meet equipment safety standards per federal and state regulations.


Rail traffic is regulated at the federal level, preempting local regulations except for police powers, such as health and safety.

MnDOT, local jurisdictions and the railroads are jointly responsible for safety at all rail grade crossings.

Railroads transport fully dried and graded sand in covered hoppers to prevent loss and contamination.