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Transportation in Minnesota

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Title: Transportation in Minnesota  
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Transportation in Minnesota

Transportation in Minnesota is primarily centered on the Twin Cities metropolitan area, where 60% of its residents live; it is overseen by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a cabinet-level agency of the state government. Additionally, the state government grants the Metropolitan Council authority over regional planning in the seven-county metro area.


  • Ground transportation 1
    • Highway transportation 1.1
    • Bus services 1.2
      • Transit buses 1.2.1
      • Intercity bus lines 1.2.2
    • Railroads 1.3
      • Light rail 1.3.1
      • Commuter and intercity rail 1.3.2
      • Freight rail 1.3.3
    • Bicycle trails 1.4
  • Water transportation 2
  • Air transportation 3
  • References 4

Ground transportation

The current state license plate design has changed only slightly since its introduction in 1978. It is the third-oldest American design in current use.

Almost all north-south through railroads and long-distance four-lane freeways in Minnesota go to or through the Twin Cities. Most east-west through routes do also, except for a northern corridor from the North Dakota border to the port of Duluth/Superior composed of two BNSF rail routes and U.S. Route 2, and a corridor across southern Minnesota from South Dakota to the Mississippi River and Wisconsin including I-90, Minnesota State Highway 60, U.S. Route 14, and the DM&E Railroad.

Highway transportation

Minnesota's major Interstate Highways are I-35, I-90, and I-94. I-535 is a spur route from Duluth to Superior, Wisconsin. In the Twin Cities I-35 splits into I-35W through Minneapolis and I-35E through St. Paul. I-94 has one spur, Interstate 394 from Minneapolis to the western suburbs, and two loop routes, Interstate 494 and Interstate 694, which form a beltway around the Twin Cities.

The interstate highways are part of a class of routes known as interregional corridors, which also includes U.S. Routes 2, 8, 10, 14, 52, 53, 61, 63, 169, and 212 and Minnesota State Highways 23, 34, 36, 60, 210, and 371.[1] Interregional corridors represent two percent of the state's highways but account for one-third of all vehicle miles traveled.[2] Less heavily traveled regional corridors include U.S. Routes 12, 59, 71, and 75, and a number of state highways.

Minnesota may be the only U.S. state with some of its highways enshrined in the state Constitution. A 1920 amendment laid out seventy routes connecting a number of cities. Today, these Constitutional Routes are made up of interstates, U.S. highways, and state highways.[3]

Bus services

Transit buses

An articulated bus in Minneapolis

Bus transit systems exist in Rochester, Winona, Duluth, St. Cloud, East Grand Forks, Mankato (Mankato Transit System), Moorhead and the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area. The last is served by the Metro Transit system, which has an extensive system with over 100 routes. Some portions of the Twin Cities region have opted to create their own bus systems, such as SouthWest Transit and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority.

Many rural areas and smaller towns also have bus service, though many of those are dial-a-ride services instead of using fixed routes. All but 4 Minnesota counties have some form of public transit service.[4]

Intercity bus lines

Intercity bus service on a skeletal network of lines is provided by Jefferson Lines, Greyhound Lines, and Megabus. Jefferson Lines, which is based in Minneapolis, provides the largest number of intercity bus routes and serves the largest number of cities. The other providers focus on providing express service with limited numbers of stops. The number of intercity bus routes has declined significantly since the early 1990s, and several routes went away when Greyhound restructured in the mid-2000s decade. Greyhound was founded in Hibbing, Minnesota, but cutbacks have led that city to be cut out of the normal intercity bus route network.

In addition to traditional intercity bus services, a network of independently operated long distance airport shuttles serving Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport has developed in recent years. Brainerd, Duluth, Mankato, Rochester, Saint Cloud, Eau Claire (WI), and La Crosse (WI) are all connected by daily scheduled shuttle service with the Minneapolis–Saint Paul airport. The shuttles provide transportation between area cities as well as serving airport passengers.


Light rail

A two-unit METRO Blue Line train approaches 46th Street station from the south.

Decades before Metro Transit, the Twin City Rapid Transit Company operated streetcars in the Twin Cities area from the 1890s until 1954, when buses supplanted the streetcars. Light Rail in Minnesota currently consists of two lines, the Blue Line and Green Line, operated by Metro Transit. Completed in 2004, the Blue Line runs from the Mall of America, through the MSP airport via a tunnel, and along Hiawatha Avenue into downtown Minneapolis. The line has been very successful, receiving a 65% higher ridership than expected in its first year of service.[5] The Green Line, which connects downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, opened to the public on June 14, 2014.

In the future, other light rail lines will be built. The Southwest Corridor light rail (an extension of the Green Line) from downtown Minneapolis to the southwest metro, was approved by the FTA to begin preliminary engineering in September 2011,[6] and is projected to open in 2017. In 2006, a constitutional amendment was passed that required sales and use taxes on motor vehicles to fund transportation, with at least 40% dedicated to public transit.[7] A few years later, a regional sales tax was implemented in several counties in the Twin Cities area. It supplies the Counties Transit Improvement Board with funds to help operate and expand the region's bus and rail transit network.

Commuter and intercity rail

The 82 mile (131 km) Northstar Corridor line, envisioned to connect Minneapolis with St. Cloud along the BNSF Railway, started service on the first 40 miles (64 km) to Big Lake in November 2009.[8] Several other commuter services are in the planning stages, such as the Red Rock Corridor from Minneapolis via St. Paul to Hastings.

The state is served by one intercity passenger rail line, Amtrak's Empire Builder, which stops daily in each direction at Winona, Red Wing, St. Paul, St. Cloud, Staples, and Detroit Lakes. The Northern Lights Express (NLX) is planned to restore service between Minneapolis and Duluth, which used to have train service until 1985.

Freight rail

Major freight railroads in Minnesota include BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, Canadian National Railway, and Canadian Pacific Railway and its Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad subsidiary. Principal ladings include coal from the Powder River Basin to ports and eastern power plants, grain and other agricultural products from farm to processors and ports, taconite (a form of iron ore) from the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota to Lake Superior ports or on all-rail routes to steel mills, timber and forest products, and intermodal traffic.

Minnesota has had many railroads in the past, and reached a peak of over 9,100 miles (14,600 km) of rails around 1920. In 2007, there was almost exactly half as much track, 4,545 miles (7,314 km). Most of the reduction occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.[9]

Bicycle trails

Cedar Lake bike trail in Minneapolis

Minnesota has more miles of bike trails than any other state,[10] and Metro Transit buses feature bike racks for combination commuters. A number of the bike trails are rail trails, utilizing the right-of-ways originally secured for railroads.

Water transportation

The lift bridge in Stillwater
Boats at Lock and Dam No. 2 on the Mississippi River near Hastings

Much of Minnesota's early transportation followed the numerous rivers and lakes. Early European explorers and settlers followed the routes used by the voyageurs and coureurs des bois in the fur trading days, and later on steamboat services operated on the principal rivers. Commercial water transportation now is limited to the shipment of bulk commodities on two routes. Barges haul grain and other products down the Mississippi River system from the ports of Minneapolis (the head of navigation), St. Paul, Red Wing and Winona on the Mississippi, and Savage (on the Minnesota River), to downstream river ports, and to ports on the Gulf of Mexico for transshipment to ocean-going cargo ships. Cargo vessels known as lakers haul grain, coal, and iron ore from the Lake Superior ports of Duluth, Superior, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, and Taconite Harbor through Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes, while ocean-going ships referred to as salties operate from the Twin Ports through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean.[11]

Air transportation

Minnesota’s principal airport is Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport (MSP), a major passenger and freight hub for Delta Air Lines. MSP is also a hub for Sun Country Airlines, and is served by most other domestic carriers. Large commercial jet service is also provided to and from Duluth International Airport and Rochester International Airport. Scheduled commuter service is available at Bemidji, Brainerd, Hibbing, International Falls, St. Cloud, and Thief River Falls.


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