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EDC voices support for railroad bypass grant application

WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission has put its support behind a major proposed project to create a railroad bypass west of Willmar.

Members of the joint operations board on Thursday said they would back a resolution to participate in applying for a TIGER II grant through the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.

“We think there’s huge potential here,” said Bruce Peterson, development director for the city of Willmar.

Local officials came close to submitting a TIGER grant application in 2010, then had to back down when one of their partners, the BNSF Railway, withdrew from the process.

BNSF cited a too-short deadline and the difficulty of obtaining enough funding to carry out the entire project.

This latest edition of the proposal still has a long journey ahead. But it has been talked about at various levels of city and county government for some years and many of the preliminary details have already been worked out.

The plan calls for building a bypass that would allow the BNSF Railway to route trains more readily between the northwest line that leads to Morris and the southwest line that leads to Marshall.

Those trains could use the bypass, eliminating the need for them to be routed into the central railyard in Willmar. Peterson said it would result in up to 14 fewer trains going through town each day.

There’s also a possibility of building a railroad spur to serve the west end of the city’s industrial park, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

“It’s a large advantage for us in terms of attracting industry and heavy industry in particular,” he said.

The federal government has committed $600 million in the latest round of TIGER funding to support road, rail, transit and port projects that improve critical transportation infrastructure. The cost of a Willmar bypass for the Morris-to-Marshall subdivision has been estimated well into millions of dollars.

The operations board of the EDC lacked a quorum Thursday so was unable to formally vote to support the TIGER grant application. Renquist said he would poll board members by email and ask them to ratify their support at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for April 10.

“At this point we’re spending no money,” he said. The Economic Development Commission will likely be asked to contribute matching funds as the project progresses, he said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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