Feds pass on funding railroad bypass
WILLMAR -- A proposal to construct a railroad bypass west of Willmar to divert possibly up to a third of the BNSF Railway trains in and out of the Willmar rail yard will not receive federal transportation funding this year, officials have learned.
WILLMAR - A proposal to construct a railroad bypass west of Willmar to divert possibly up to a third of the BNSF Railway trains in and out of the Willmar rail yard will not receive federal transportation funding this year, officials have learned.
The proposed $50 million Willmar bypass, known as a wye, was not among projects listed on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website to receive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants in 2014.
A grant application requesting $18 million in TIGER funding had been submitted this April by BNSF, the city of Willmar, Kandiyohi County, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Last week, the department awarded 72 grants in 46 states and Washington, D.C., totaling $600 million. In Minnesota, TIGER grants went to projects in Anoka and in Minneapolis.
Bruce Peterson, Willmar’s planning and development director, said the partners are disappointed the project did not get funded. “But we’ll regroup and figure out where we go from here,’’ Peterson said Wednesday.
Peterson said the project apparently did not score where it needed to score “and we were kind of surprised because the impact of the project that we have proposed here has huge ramifications for the northern BNSF network as far as moving oil, as far as moving ag commodities, as far as moving coal. This wye project we had talked here about would take out a lot of congestion out of the system and in theory would have helped move product much more efficiently.’’
According to Ryan Raske, an engineer with BNSF consultant AECOM of Minneapolis, the proposed 2.5-mile, north-south connection track would be built between BNSF’s Morris subdivision track, which goes to the northwest, and the Marshall subdivision track, which goes to the southwest.
In presentations earlier this year to the Willmar City Council and Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Raske said trains entering Willmar from either of the Morris or Marshall subdivisions must first enter the Willmar rail yard and disconnect and move the engines to the front of the train before continuing either northwest or southwest.
Raske said the wye would allow trains to bypass Willmar without entering the yard and reconfiguring the trains.
Peterson said the $18 million grant request “was a pretty big chunk’’ of money.
Associated with wye construction would have been construction of an overpass over the wye track at state Highway 40 and County Road 55, and construction of an overpass at County Road 55 and U.S. Highway 12.
Peterson said a meeting will be held in two weeks to discuss steps and whether or not there’s a chance to scale back the project and still make it work.
Amy McBeth, BNSF spokeswoman, said Wednesday the partners will meet to discuss whether everyone is still committed to being a partner in the project and discuss next steps and options.
McBeth said making an application for 2015 funding is a possibility.
“We know there’ll be another round of grants next year and so that will certainly be at the top of the discussion if the partners are still committed,’’ she said.
One thing to discuss is pursuing the grant next year and the other would be meeting with agencies to see how the grant application can be improved for the next round if that is what the partners decide to do, McBeth said.