The latest rail plan for Minnesota is far from comprehensive and state planners have again neglected southwest Minnesota in their strategic planning.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has conveniently left the Willmar BNSF rail corridor, also known as the Little Crow Transit Way, to the "Second Phase" of their proposed plan. That phase is not until 2030 at the earliest. That is more than two decades or 20 years away.
West central Minnesota already suffers from the lack of access to the nation's interstate highway system. The completion of the four-lane connection via state Highway 23 to Interstate 94 is at least a decade away if the region is lucky.
West central Minnesota is heralded as the breadbasket of Minnesota agriculture and the corn seed and ethanol capital of the world, but remains a transportation black hole of this state.
MnDOT should give a higher priority to upgrading both freight and passenger rail service to Willmar along the Little Crow Transit Way corridor.
As Willmar city engineer Mel Odens pointed out, Willmar remains the gateway to southwest Minnesota, South Dakota and points westward.
Historically, Willmar's own rail yard has remained the second busiest in Minnesota outside of Minneapolis. In addition, the region has significant rail traffic to carry grain as well as ethanol to eastern markets.
If the state can improve the rail system along the Little Crow Transit Way, the resulting impact could be a reduction in traffic congestion along four core highways of west central Minnesota -- U.S. Highways 12, 212 and state Highways 7 and 55.
In addition, development of the Little Crow Transit Way will also benefit the growing development of the Interstate 29 corridor in eastern South and North Dakota. It would also improve traffic to the north to the Fargo and Dilworth yard connections.
State MnDOT officials should reconsider their priority for Willmar and the Little Crow Transit Way. The cities along this corridor are ready and willing to develop this rail corridor now, not 20 to 30 years from now.