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BNSF pulls out of grant process for proposed Willmar rail bypass

WILLMAR -- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has pulled out of the application process for federal stimulus money to help build a railroad bypass on the west edge of Willmar.

In a letter notifying local officials Tuesday of its decision, BNSF said that after reviewing the application guidelines, the railroad saw "no possibility" of being able to obtain a planning grant for the proposed project.

Local economic development officials said today they're disappointed with the turn of events.

"The greatest disappointment is the loss of what we thought were the benefits," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

The proposed bypass would have shifted the Morris-to-Marshall subdivision traffic out of the central railyard in downtown Willmar and reassigned it to a rail bypass on the west edge of town.

City officials saw it as an opportunity to increase rail access to Willmar's industrial park. The development of a bypass also would have opened the door to cargo service at the Willmar Municipal Airport, as well as commuter light-rail service to the city.

The project would have entailed a massive financial investment, however. The cost of building the rail bypass was estimated at $33 million to $58 million.

BNSF said that in order to be in the running for a federal stimulus grant, it would have had to obtain a significant level of non-federal funding for the project. The railroad is "simply not in a position to make that commitment," BNSF officials said in their statement to local officials.

Willmar officials said they want to continue talking to BNSF about other possible options.

"We'll maintain contact with BNSF and keep trying to do whatever is possible and affordable," said Bruce Peterson, community development director for the city of Willmar.

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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