Ports & Terminals

Minnesota Ports’ Infrastructure Report Card Grade From ASCE Slips to C-

On April 26, Minnesota’s port infrastructure received a collective grade of C- from the Minnesota division of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which issues periodic infrastructure “report cards” for national infrastructure and each state’s infrastructure. This was a downgrade from the 2018 Report Card, which assigned Minnesota ports a C+ grade.” A “C” grade means the state’s infrastructure is in mediocre condition and requires attention.

The Report Card assigns the state’s infrastructure as a whole a cumulative grade of “C,” unchanged from the 2018 Report Card, better than the national overall infrastructure grade of “C-.” The latest Report Card analyzes 10 categories of infrastructure pertinent to Minnesota: aviation (B), bridges (C), dams (C), drinking water (C-), energy (C), parks (B-), ports (C-), roads (D+), transit (C-) and wastewater (C).

The Minnesota section of ASCE unveiled its 2022 Report Card for Minnesota’s Infrastructure, the state’s first report card since 2018, in two coordinated events at Saint Paul and Duluth. Minnesota Report Card co-chairs Katie Zadrozny and Andy Nordseth presented the findings to an in-person audience at the Minnesota State Capitol building in Saint Paul, while the Duluth Section press conference featured remarks from Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Matt Baumgartner, president of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Despite recent investments, Minnesota’s transportation network is severely underfunded,” the Minnesota ASCE said in a press release. “The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will help, but local and state funding and financing is necessary to bring the state’s roads (D+), bridges (C), and transit (C-) network up to speed and meet matching requirements to qualify for federal funding. There are 874 bridges in poor condition in Minnesota, a decrease from 1,080 bridges in poor condition in 2017. While this is encouraging, the number of bridges that have slipped from good to fair condition is growing. More than 1,400 bridges are posted with load restrictions, which inhibits economic efficiency.”

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Ports Falling Behind

Of Minnesota’s port capacity, 80 percent is contained in ports along Lake Superior (Saint Lawrence Seaway), with the remaining 20 percent of capacity contained in ports along the Mississippi River. According to the latest Report Card, the state’s ports have sufficient capacity for current and future cargo demands, as the network currently supports movement of 65 to 75 million tons of cargo annually. However, facility operators are encountering accelerated freshwater corrosion of steel structures, increased storm frequency and flooding and dredging backlogs. Existing steel structures are being remediated utilizing unique corrosion remediation methods, but the costs of project requests for these needs are more than double currently available funding.

The 2018 Report Card concluded, “There has been a multidecade shift from federal funding to state and local funding for much of our basic infrastructure needs. We need to recognize that federal funding alone is insufficient. Instead, we need to help ourselves by raising revenue at the state and local level to support these infrastructure systems, our economy, and our quality of life.”
The 2018 Report Card recommended the following action to raise the ports’ collective grade:

• Port Authorities such as the Port of Duluth/Superior should continue to preserve land uses, maximize the efficiency of rail/truck/ship (intermodal) connections and continue to seek new cargo potentials.

• Expand the State of Minnesota’s Port Development Assistance Program (PDAP) to provide access to grants for private dock owners.

• Maintain federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GRLI) funding and incorporate into dredging projects.

The 2021 National Report Card for national infrastructure took note of funding increases since the last Report Card was issued. “Ports and port tenants plan to spend $163 billion between 2021 and 2025, up by over $8 billion over the last four years. Investments are focused on capacity and efficiency enhancements as maximum vessel size has doubled over the last 15 years, and tonnage at the top 25 ports grew by 4.4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Federal funding has increased through multimodal competitive grant programs. However, there is a funding gap of over $12 billion for waterside infrastructure such as dredging over the next 10 years, with additional billions needed for landside infrastructure.”