Upside Down Under: It’s a Canadian invasion…

Written by: Marvin Baker

Anyone who travels U.S. Highway 52 anywhere between Portal to Minot and beyond is fully aware of the number semi-trailers that are coming from western Canada.

I’ve written about this in the past and before retiring, sometimes counted those trucks to have statistics to back up the articles. The last time I did that was December 2019. Since the first of this year, however, there seems to be quite an uptick in the number of semis.

It used to be a fascination to me that so many from western Canada, with most coming from Calgary and Edmonton, would use a highway in western North Dakota to get from point A to point B.

But now, it seems as if it is becoming a bit dangerous. So many people are in a hurry and because U.S. 52 is a two-lane road, some are passing in questionable spots. Thank goodness there haven’t been any major accidents for several months, but that can change in a heartbeat.

To some of us who live in the northwest, this is preaching to the choir. But most people in North Dakota aren’t even aware that this Canadian invasion is taking place. The good news is those trucks have over-the-road permits to haul across our state. The bad news is U.S. 52 is getting much too congested.

Unofficially since Jan. 1, each time I’ve been on U.S. 52 and it doesn’t matter what portion of the highway, for every 10 trucks, you’ll see four from Saskatchewan, three from Alberta, two from North Dakota and one from British Columbia, as an average.
Those numbers will turn around, but in no circumstance since Jan. 1 have I seen more than four from North Dakota for every 10 I’ve counted.

For a while in late 2022, there was quite an influx of trucks from British Columbia. That’s tapered off and most are now coming from the prairie provinces, Manitoba included.

If you don’t believe this, schedule a trip from Minot to Bowbells or Velva to Kenmare and count the number of trucks with Canadian license plates.

We all know that Portal is one of three 24-hour ports of entry into North Dakota. Apparently, it is getting used a lot more than it once did, simply because of the volume of truck traffic. I doubt it will ever challenge the Pembina crossing since that’s a main thoroughfare between Winnipeg and Kansas City.

But Portal is busy and so is U.S. Highway 52 and Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 39.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation has approved a plan to widen U.S. 52 from Portal to Jamestown, but that’s going to take several years.

Some of us who were concerned about this as far back as 2017, formed a committee with U.S. and Canadian members on that committee to get the highway four-laned from Portal to U.S. Highway 2 west of Minot.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the DOT decided to put in passing lanes at critical locations to mitigate the risk of accidents. It wasn’t what we wanted, but it was a compromise nonetheless.

For Canadians truckers, this is an easy route. Anyone traveling east across the Trans Canada Highway, exits at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan onto a diagonal highway taking them to the U.S. border, get checked at a 24-hour port and pick up another diagonal highway nearly all across the state of North Dakota.

It’s hard to say what the cargo is, but it’s safe to assume that a number of those trucks are hauling grain and we’ve seen them as far southeast as St. Cloud, Minn., while taking our trips to Mayo Clinic.

All this poses an interesting question. What if the number of these trucks continues to ramp up over the next couple of years? That’s when construction is going to be taking place building the passing lanes. If those numbers are anything like they’ve been since Jan. 1, it’s going to be a mess.

Thank goodness for those of us who live in the northwest, we have some alternate routes. That’s not 100 percent, but there are options.

For those Canadian truckers, it might be a good idea during construction to cross the border at Sweetgrass, Mont., Dunseith or Pembina to avoid delays in getting to their destination.

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