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Snow slows down U.S. Highway 12 completion in Willmar

MnDOT had hoped to have the new U.S. Highway 12 in Willmar open by the end of the month. But, the sudden arrival of winter has chilled those plans. The plan now is to have the new roadway, part of the Willmar Wye project, open sometime in November.

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Crews from the Hoffman Team, the design-build contractor for the Willmar Wye project, are working to finish up the realigned Highway 12. Weather delays have pushed back the completion date into November. Minnesota Department of Transportation / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — The early arrival of winter, or at least a sneak peek of it, has caused a delay in the completion of the realignment of U.S. Highway 12 on the western edge of Willmar, a part of the Willmar Wye railroad bypass project.

According to the weekly wye update released Monday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8, the new Highway 12 probably won't be open for traffic until mid-November. It had been hoped that portion of the project would be complete by the end of October.

The weather slowed the finishing work on the new portion of the highway, including laying asphalt and marking the pavement. Once that work is completed, the current Highway 12 will be detoured around the construction zone, so crews can finish the tie-ins, which will connect the realigned portion to the rest of Highway 12.

While the new streets might look finished, MnDOT is warning drivers to stay off the new road construction. There are drop-offs in the pavement, and multiple road safety features, such as guardrails and signage, have not been put in place yet, so driving could be very dangerous, the update said.

The construction of the Willmar Wye, or the Willmar Rail Connector and Industrial Access Project, began in July 2019. The nearly $50 million project will make it possible for trains traveling along the BNSF Railway to travel from the Marshall subdivision track to the Morris subdivision track without having to switch engines in the railyard in downtown Willmar. This direct connection should reduce the number of trains in town, which can cause traffic backups and possible train-versus-vehicle conflicts at rail crossings.

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While at its heart the Willmar Wye is a railroad project, it includes many road aspects, including bridges over the new rail line, construction of two roundabouts and significant changes to the route of Highway 12. During the planning process of the Willmar Wye project, it was decided to realign Highway 12 to the south of its current route, as that made it easier to construct the bridge over the new rail line.

The altered Highway 12, as described from the west, will travel south at about the intersection of Seventh Avenue Northwest and cross First Avenue West before heading east, crossing Kandiyohi County Road 55 and traveling through the County Road 5 roundabout before tying back in to the original alignment just east of the present-day intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 5.

The road construction portion of the Willmar Wye project, with the Hoffman Team as the design-build contractor, is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021. BNSF Railway will begin the rail construction in the spring of 2021, with completion in the fall of 2022.

The overall project is a private-public partnership between BNSF Railway, Kandiyohi County, the city of Willmar, MnDOT and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. A $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery federal grant was awarded to the project in October 2015. BNSF will be putting in $16 million and MnDOT $17.5 million. Another $3.77 million will be funded through the Local Road Improvement Program. The county, city and EDC are also helping, contributing about $800,000 financially or in-kind.

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The Willmar Wye project includes the realignment of Highway 12 on the west side of Willmar. Minnesota Department of Transportation / West Central Tribune

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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