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Kandiyohi County supports cooperative agreement for rail bypass

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners formally gave its support last week to the framework of a master cooperative agreement for a railroad bypass west of Willmar. The agreement, which is nearing the final negotiation stage, outl...

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Tribune file photo

WILLMAR - The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners formally gave its support last week to the framework of a master cooperative agreement for a railroad bypass west of Willmar.

The agreement, which is nearing the final negotiation stage, outlines the roles and responsibilities of all the parties - federal, state, local, public and private - in the multimillion-dollar project.

It will come back to the board one last time for signature.

The project, set to begin next year, involves the construction of a bypass connecting the northwest and southwest lines of the BNSF Railway on the west edge of Willmar. It will reduce the number of trains going through the city and help spur development within the Willmar Industrial Park.

It also will have an impact on traffic patterns and the configuration of local roads.

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Although negotiations for the final agreement are not complete yet, the parties are "in harmony," said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.

"All the partners are committed to seeing this project completed," he said.

The master cooperative agreement will hammer out more than a dozen key issues surrounding right-of-way acquisition, how costs are divided for expenses such as wetland mitigation and utility crossing conduits, how the money from a $10 million federal grant will be split among the parties, the timing of construction and more.

It's one of the steps that must be completed in conjunction with the formal acceptance of the federal TIGER grant that's covering a portion of the bypass construction costs. The timetable calls for signing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant agreement in June.

Not all the parties will get everything they want in the final cooperative agreement. One of Kandiyohi County's requests - keeping First Avenue West open south of U.S. Highway 12 - has been rejected, prompting County Commissioner Rollie Nissen to cast the lone dissenting vote Tuesday against the outline of the master cooperative agreement.

The portion of First Avenue West that would have crossed the new rail line will be closed.

"I think it's wrong," Nissen said of the closure.

Roger Imdieke, chairman of the board, agreed that the final design will not be to everyone's liking. But the bypass is still a worthwhile project and it's important to keep moving forward, he said.

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"We have a lot of resources as well as the staff invested in this project," he said.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen urged the board to avoid thinking in terms of winning or losing, saying the bypass will bring benefits far into the future.

"Let's look at it from the perspective of the traveling public long term, for economic development long term," he said.

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