MnDOT From A to Z

Most Minnesotans have an idea of what MnDOT does, but the department covers even more than you think
Raya Garrison

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is a cabinet-level organization that oversees all methods of transportation for the state of Minnesota, including air, rail, land, water and bicycling. But MnDOT encompasses a whole lot more than that—so much that it is impossible to list everything. To give you an idea, we’ve broken down some highlights, listed from A to Z.

A: Adopt a Highway

Anyone can volunteer to Adopt a Highway, a program that focuses on clearing litter from over 700 segments of state highways. MnDOT provides bags, vests, training and bag retrieval for approximately four hours of labor. In 2018, more than 3,500 groups participated—totaling 282,000 hours and 35,957 bags of trash.

B: Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota

The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, also known as BikeMN, informs local communities about bike-friendly practices by focusing on four areas: advocacy, education, encouragement and technical assistance. One of its programs, Walk! Bike! Fun!, helps children ages 5 to 13 be more aware while biking and walking in their neighborhoods.

C: Commissioner of Transportation

Appointed by Governor Tim Walz, the current MnDOT Commissioner of Transportation, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, took office on Jan. 7, 2019. Kelliher is a native Minnesotan and spent 12 years as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, four of which she was elected as Minnesota House Speaker. She is only the second woman to hold this position.

D: Driveway

Did you know that you can mark your driveway with a pocket for plows to drop excess snow? This reduces the possibility of becoming snowbound after a plow comes through your street. Using 3-inch-wide, double-sided blue or colorless/white reflectors, simply mark a section at least 12 feet from the outside edge of the shoulder for plows to drop the snow.

E: Express Lanes

MnPASS Express Lanes allow carpooling drivers (a free option) or drivers with a MnPASS account and tag (available for an associated fee) to drive in the designated lane during peak travel times. AAA members receive $20 in MnPASS toll credits for new MnPASS accounts.


The FIRST (Freeway Incident Response Safety Team) program works to minimize congestion on roadways and prevent additional crashes by quickly responding to crashes, stalled vehicles and debris on the road. The trucks are equipped to assist with flat tires, minor vehicle repairs and gas to get to the nearest service station. Plus, all personnel are EMS First Responders.

G: Great River Road

The Great River Road winds 565 miles on Minnesota state and local roads following the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. This National Scenic Byway was established in 1938.

H: Historic Status

MnDOT regularly manages, maintains and restores many roadside properties of historic status. Along with preserving attractions, MnDOT maintains over 200 historic bridges in the state.

I: I-35W/St. Anthony Falls Bridge Redesign

After the tragic I-35W/St. Anthony Falls bridge collapse in 2007, residents, appointed government officials, parks representatives, businesses and community members banded together on the redesign. The new design was recognized in 2009 with America’sTransportation Awards’ Grand Prize. The bridge is lit on special occasions and holidays—on the anniversary of the collapse, it remains unlit.

J: Junkyard Act

To improve the appearance of junkyards along major state highways, the Junkyard Act was established in 1971. MnDOT has the authority to acquire easements to screen a junkyard (an automobile graveyard with the equivalent of five or more motor vehicles) that is within a half mile of a state highway.


If you’re interested in live traffic information and don’t have your phone or computer handy to check MnDOT’s social media (or if you’re driving), KBEM 88.5 has live traffic information and is an official MnDOT partner.

L: Living Snow Fence

A fence made out of trees, shrubs, native grasses and wildflowers located along roads is known as a living snow fence and it’s used to stop blowing snow. Benefits include reduced snow drifts and improved visibility for drivers. Anyone can enroll in the living snow fence program—if eligible, MnDOT provides compensation.

M: Monarch Highway

I-35 is also known as the Monarch Highway due to MnDOT’s efforts to support the monarch butterflies that live in the 175,000 acres the department maintains. MnDOT has planted native grasses and forbs, such as milkweed, in the habitat to increase the pollinators’ population.

N: Northern Lights Express

The Northern Lights Express is a proposed high-speed intercity passenger rail service that would operate between Minneapolis and Duluth. Travel time is anticipated to be around 2.5 hours with speeds up to 90 mph. It is estimated to cost $30 for a one-way ($60 round-trip) ticket from Minneapolis to Duluth. The project is currently awaiting funding, and construction could begin as soon as this year.

O: Ombudsman

An ombudsman is a completely neutral and independent official appointed to assist in resolving any issues between MnDOT and the public that are unable to be resolved through normal procedures. The role ensures that both sides are heard and that creative problem solving takes place. After listening to all parties, an ombudsman provides options to the MnDOTcommissioner for final determination.

P: Potholes

Ever wonder how our seemingly endless number of potholes are created every year? The moisture and severe cold from Minnesota’s harsh winters can cause cracking in pavement. When spring comes, water seeps into the cracks, which activates the freeze-thaw cycle that causes the pavement to deteriorate. MnDOT asks that you report any potholes in your neighborhood to your local district office.

Q: Qualified Minority and Women Contractors

In order to prioritize qualified minority and women contractors, MnDOT’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program (DBE) was established by the federal government to ensure that certified women-and minority-owned businesses can participate in contracts financed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

R: Rumble Strips

Rumble strips/stripes—which we’ve all heard when driving too close to the side or middle of the road—are grooves in the pavement used to alert drivers through noise and vibration. MnDOT implemented a policy requiring centerline rumbles to be placed on all rural, undivided roadways with a speed limit of 55 mph or higher.

S: State Entrance Signs

At each of the 69 entry points into Minnesota, drivers are greeted by one of three types of state entrance signs based on highway volume and type of traffic. The Type I major entrance sign was developed in 1996 through a student design competition at the University of Minnesota. The Type II historic stone monument sign (above) was designed by landscape architect Arthur Nichols who worked for the highway department from 1932–1940.

T: Towards Zero Deaths

Minnesota Towards Zero Deaths (TZD) is a coalition-based organization that revolves around the four “E’s”—emergency responders, educators, enforcement (police/law) and engineers.TZD volunteers educate groups on traffic safety practices, raise awareness for traffic issues and work to make roadways safer for everyone. Its biggest goal? Zero deaths on Minnesota roadways. AAA Minneapolis is actively involved on the steering committee assisting with programs and direction.

U: Unmanned Aerial Systems

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are required under Minnesota state law to be registered with the MnDOT Office of Aeronautics. Commercial use of drones is regulated by the state and federal government. Licensed UAS users are required by federal law to notify an airport when flying within 5 miles as university research has shown that even a small drone can damage a jet engine.

V: Vision for Transportation

MnDOT launched a program called Minnesota GO in 2011 tasked with a 50-year vision for transportation. The program focuses on factors such as flooding, energy shifts, automation, urbanization and an increasingly diverse population, and seeks input from all Minnesotans through a steering committee with advisory groups, workshops, briefings and more.

W: Worker Memorial Day

Governor Tim Walz proclaimed April 28 as Worker Memorial Day in honor of those who have lost their lives while constructing and maintaining highway projects across the state. There is also a Transportation Worker Memorial in the lobby of the Transportation Building in St. Paul.

X: X Marks for Planning and Designs

Have you ever seen a white X painted on a highway? MnDOT uses these X’s for transportation planning and highway design. Through an aerial survey process, MnDOT workers can create a record of existing landscape and infrastructure.

Y: YouTube

MnDOT has a YouTube channel with helpful videos on topics ranging from zipper merging and employee profiles to construction updates, plow information and more.

Z: Zipper Merging

Whether you love it, hate it or embrace it in the name of “Minnesota nice,” MnDOT says zipper merging benefits everyone on the road. Research shows that traffic backup reduces by up to 40percent when the zipper merge is done properly.

511: MnDOT Traveler Information Service

MnDOT’s traveler information service provides continual updates about road closures,weather-related road conditions and road work. For other travel information, visit follow MnDOT on social media

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