Possible Hwy. 12 realignment draws a crowd in Willmar

WILLMAR -- A steady stream of landowners, business owners and residents filtered through the community room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building Thursday to get a closer look at two options for the Willmar Rail Connector and...

Hwy. 12 open house
A large crowd of residents and business owners attended an open house Thursday about a possible realignment of U.S. Highway 12 as part of the BNSF railroad bypass project, or wye. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is seeking feedback on the Willmar project. (Shelby Lindrud | Tribune)

WILLMAR - A steady stream of landowners, business owners and residents filtered through the community room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building Thursday to get a closer look at two options for the Willmar Rail Connector and Industrial Park Access Project, better known as the Willmar Wye.
In question is the possible realignment of U.S. Highway 12. In Alternative 1, Highway 12 stays where it is, though there is a realignment of Kandiyohi County Road 55. In Alternative 2, Highway 12 moves to the south and heads east, before heading back north to its current location. The new rail stays in the same location in both plans.
The second alternative is a cost cutting measure, because it does away with costly retaining walls which will be needed to allow Highway 12 to go over the new rail line, as is planned in the first option.
Currently, the second plan is favored by project partners due to the lower costs. The open house was held to gather public input on the possible realignment of Highway 12. Large maps of both alternatives were on hand, as were MnDOT staff to answer questions.
Partners in the railroad bypass project, or wye, hope to come to a decision about what plan to use by the end of March.
The bypass will be built between the BNSF main lines west of Willmar that go west-northwest to Morris and southwest to Marshall. An estimated seven to 10 trains per day will be routed along the two-mile bypass, reducing noise and road blockages in the city of Willmar and improving safety.
There were many public comments made Thursday during the open house. Since the new rail bypass is staying in the same location in both plans, resident Ronda Freiborg preferred Alternative 2, mostly because it moves a rail crossing away from a heavy residential area near the intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 5.
“I’m surprised no one has been killed there,” Freiborg said.
Freiborg is concerned about the wildlife that live around where Highway 12 could go, as deer and fox are a common site near her home, just southwest of Highway 12 and County Road 5. However, she figures the right plan will end up being used.
“I’m sure no matter what it will work out. We always knew it was going to change,” Freiborg said.
Margit Flykt Bonnema, who lives in Montevideo but owns farmland where the new Highway 12 could go, worries about what the highway would mean for her land. She rents the land out and uses the income to supplement her retirement.
“We’ll be directly affected. It will cut right in the middle of my land. I’m worried about what will be left,” Bonnema said.
Business owners are also worried about losing their access to Highway 12.
“I’m concerned how customers will get to me,” said Sue Danielson, owner of the Fabric and Textile Warehouse.
Clinton Raasch, owner of Clinton’s Transmission and Auto Repair, has concerns about the first option, but is completely against moving Highway 12.
“Option 2 takes the highway exposure away from my business completely. I put it there specifically for the Highway 12 exposure,” Raasch said.
He also has problems with the realignment of 45th Street Northwest, saying he is worried about safety. With the planned realignment, he fears drivers will not only have to worry about fellow drivers, but traffic coming in and out of private driveways and trains.
Then there is the negative impact he fears will come with the construction as well.
“Either option is going to affect my business, while it is being done,” Raasch said.
MnDOT staff distributed comment cards to the people who attended Thursday, asking for them to turn in their thoughts, concerns and questions.
Danielson has been following the project closely and says MnDOT has always been open to hearing from her and the open house was the same way.
“It’s been really helpful. They’re really, seriously listening to the concerns,” Danielson said.

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 or direct 320-214-4373.

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