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Council discusses waiving municipal consent on Highway 12 realignment

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Wye railroad bypass project will not only drastically change the traffic patterns of trains coming in and out of Willmar, but also those of drivers, especially along U.S. Highway 12, just west of Willmar.

WILLMAR - The Willmar Wye railroad bypass project will not only drastically change the traffic patterns of trains coming in and out of Willmar, but also those of drivers, especially along U.S. Highway 12, just west of Willmar.

"The realignment as proposed will bring Highway 12 south of the existing corridor and will provide opportunity for better industrial park access, while improving traffic flow for the general motoring public," said Willmar Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson at Monday at the Willmar City Council meeting.

As the wye project adding a rail connection between two existing BNSF railway lines on the west edge of Willmar - and modify surrounding roadways to better move freight through the city - moves out of the design phase, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is beginning the municipal consent process, which by law allows the city to conduct a public hearing on the highway changes and approve or disapprove the plans.

However, since the city of Willmar has been a partner in this project since Day 1 and the public has already had many opportunities to comment on the Highway 12 realignment, Peterson recommends the city waive its right to municipal consent and allow the process to move forward.

"It's been very well-explained, very well-vetted and very well-communicated to the public," Peterson said.

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If the city chose to hold a public hearing, a 30-day notice would be needed, which could possibly create delays.

"Keep this process moving and the timeframes under control," Peterson said.

Paul Rasmussen, MnDOT engineer, said the plan for Highway 12 has changed very little since the last time the council had seen it. The realignment does not include an at-grade crossing at First Avenue West - something local officials long advocated - but it will make for a safer rail crossing at Kandiyohi County Road 5, Rasmussen said.

In regard to the old Highway 12, most of it will be removed. However, portions will remain to act as access to businesses and connections to other streets.

There was some concern raised about the County Road 55 and Highway 12 intersection, that is planned just west of the Highway 12 bridge over the new rail track and whether it would be a danger to drivers. Rasmussen said standard sight lines are usually about 800 feet, but for that location and a similar intersection at Highway 40 and County Road 55, MnDOT designed them to be longer, allowing drivers to see what is coming.

"We've designed this alignment to have 1,070 feet of site distance back to the east, so that when you pull up to the intersection you'll be able to see," Rasmussen said.

The decision will be made at the June 19 council meeting whether to waive municipal consent for the Highway 12 realignment or to call a public hearing. While Mayor Marv Calvin said he does not want to hold up the process, he also wants to make sure the public is heard.

"I want to be as transparent as we can with the process. There are a lot of questions out there," Calvin said.

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The project partners, which include the city, Kandiyohi County, MnDOT, BNSF Railway and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, will soon be ready to sign the master agreement, which is the first contractual obligation for the project, Rasmussen said.

"It's been fun watching this project coming together. The value of this project outweighs the concerns we have expressed," Calvin 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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