BEMIDJI -- Northwest Minnesota is District 2 for the state’s Department of Transportation, and it’s an area full of freight being moved on land and in the air.

Currently, MnDOT officials are exploring how to continue making the district’s freight network strong.

According to a release from the agency, a new freight transportation plan has been prepared and MnDOT is seeking public comments on the document. For participation, MnDOT has set up a website at www.district2freightplan.com, which is available through Oct. 9, for residents to learn more about the plan.

In total, District 2 serves 14 counties in the region, including Beltrami. According to the plan, the region relies heavily on freight-dependent industries, as it retains more than half of the area’s full-time, year-round employment.

A large portion of the freight network is used for agriculture, forestry products and manufactured goods. The network includes U.S. Highways 2, 59, 71 and 75, as well as the 675 miles of rail lines owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.

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The district is also home to regional airports in Bemidji and Thief River Falls, as well as international border crossings in Baudette, Lancaster, Pinecreek, Roseau and Warroad.

MnDOT’s plan also addresses the 1,259 miles of pipeline in District 2. The plan states that about 30% of U.S. crude oil imports enter through Minnesota mostly by pipeline.

In relation to highways, the plan provided the following information:

  • 75% of the freight trips starting in the area also ended in the area, meaning there’s a large local truck traffic volume.
  • Destinations outside the area extend throughout the Midwest, but are usually in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
  • For highway trips in the region to Canada, more than half end close to a Canadian Pacific facility in Winnipeg.

Along with the data listed above, the plan also found a desire from businesses for multi-lane highways. Currently, the region has no interstate highways and only limited segments of multi-lane highways.

So far, respondents have said the expansion of some roadways to multi-lane configurations would increase safety and efficiency.

Moving freight by air was also heavily examined in the plan. According to the document, the airports in Bemidji and Thief River Falls handle more air cargo than any other airport in Minnesota, except for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

In Bemidji, from 2013-2018, the volume of freight shipped out of the Bemidji Regional Airport grew 24%, while the volume at Thief River Falls’ airport increased 305%.

According to MnDOT District 2 Planning Director Jon Mason, the plan will be used to gain a better understanding of the issues and needs of the area.

“The long term objective is to identify opportunities to improve infrastructure for all modes that use the system in Minnesota,” Mason said. “We’re considering some different projects that will improve the freight network in the district. It includes making partnerships to address operational challenges, that can be with counties, cities, freight businesses and haulers.”

Because District 2 borders North Dakota, Mason said the agency will also be in touch with that state’s transportation department to have a “continuous transportation system.”

Residents can submit their comments to Mason via email at jon.mason@state.mn.us, or by calling his office at (218) 407-1917.