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City of Willmar wants assurances on benefits of wye

WILLMAR -- In an effort to protect the city's benefits from the Willmar Wye project, the Willmar City Council approved a motion at Monday's meeting to direct staff to negotiate specific language regarding train traffic in the final master agreeme...

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Shelby Lindrud / Tribune file photo The Willmar City Council approved a motion at Monday's meeting to direct staff to negotiate specific language regarding train traffic in the final master agreement for the railroad bypass project.

WILLMAR - In an effort to protect the city's benefits from the Willmar Wye project, the Willmar City Council approved a motion at Monday's meeting to direct staff to negotiate specific language regarding train traffic in the final master agreement for the railroad bypass project.

The language would require BNSF Railway to implement operational measures that would maintain the function of the bypass if train traffic exceeds 12 trains per day.

"I don't care how you do it, but you are keeping that traffic out of the city," said Bruce Peterson, Willmar Planning and Development director.

The motion was made in response to BNSF's decision not to construct the siding track, which was to run parallel to the new train track connecting the Morris and Marshall Subdivision tracks. The new bypass track would allow trains using these subdivisions to travel straight through, without having to turn around in Willmar.

A major goal of the project is safety and a reduction in the number of trains coming through Willmar.

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"BNSF has determined that they don't need that parallel track," Peterson said, as train traffic is down.

In addition, when the federal TIGER grant was approved for $10 million, and not the $15 million requested, BNSF and other project partners were looking for ways to cut costs in the project that tops $40 million.

"Things have got to change," Peterson said.

The potential new language in the agreement would not force BNSF to build the second track. Instead the railroad company would have to make sure that any trains that should use the wye to move between the two subdivision tracks will do so.

Also removed from the project was the locally preferred option of an at-grade crossing on First Avenue West. Instead a new access road will come off of the rerouted U.S. Highway 12 south of those west Willmar businesses located along First Avenue.

"We don't believe that is arguable any longer," Peterson said.

The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration have said they will not sign off on the project if the at-grade crossing is in the plans.

"They are going to stick to the mantra of no new at-grade crossings," Peterson said.

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The wye partners are coming up against a deadline. The entire project agreement has to been signed and approved by June 30, which means steps have to be taken as soon as May 15. This deadline is three months earlier than what was expected.

There are concerns that the TIGER grant's days may be numbered with President Donald Trump thinking of ending the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, including those grants which have already been approved, Peterson said.

The city is providing $900,000 worth of city land for the wye's right-of-way. Many on the council are now questioning what the city is getting for their money.

"We have a right-of-way that we are making available to the project. What are we getting back for it?" Mayor Marv Calvin asked.

Peterson still believes the project is a positive, but the agreement should have something that protects the city.

"This is still a very good project, but we should have some parameters that benefit everybody," Peterson said.

Peterson, along with Willmar Public Works director Sean Christensen have been working on the city's behalf during the master agreement talks between the project partners, which include BNSF and the Minnesota Department of Transportation as well as Kandiyohi County and the joint county and city Economic Development Commission.

"Negotiations are pretty much done," Peterson said.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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