WILLMAR — The Minnesota Department of Transportation issued a project update this week on the construction of the Willmar Wye Rail Connector and Industrial Park Access Project.
The project to create a railroad bypass west of Willmar includes the realignment of U.S. Highway 12, reconstruction of state Highway 40, and new bridges that will carry motor vehicle traffic over the top of the rail line to be constructed in 2021-22.
Dirt work started in July, including the grading of a portion of the new U.S. Highway 12 and the construction of the embankments for the new bridges over the top of the future rail line. A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony took place July 9.
According to the update from Paul Rasmussen, Willmar Wye project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, part of the new route of Highway 12 has been graded — from the current Highway 12 near Seventh Avenue Northeast, then headed south and east to the beginning of the new highway bridge embankment, located east of Kandiyohi County Road 55.
The bridge embankments for the both new Highway 12 and state Highway 40 bridges are also under construction. The bridges themselves will start to go up in the next several weeks.
"The bridges should start mid-November," Rasmussen said. "They'll be built together, at the same time."
There is also embankment work being completed along County Road 55. Due to the height of the bridges on the new Highway 12 and Highway 40, the current road height on 55 would be too low to meet up with the bridge embankment.
"We do have to raise the grade of 55 as well," Rasmussen said.
Also on Highway 40, a diversion channel is being dug at Hawk Creek. The channel will assist in the placement of a box culvert under the highway. The box culvert is replacing the current culvert in place under Highway 40, which Hawk Creek flows through.
"We are diverting Hawk Creek around where the culvert is" to give construction crews access to the area, Rasmussen said.
Due to the ongoing construction, Highway 40 from County Road 5 to just west of the Hawk Creek Crossing remains closed until approximately June 2020. Also remaining closed until June 2020 is County Road 55 from First Avenue on the north end to the junction of County Road 5 on the south end. County Road 55 intersects County Road 5 just north of state Highway 23.
Roundabout construction continues on what will be the new Highway 12.
Crews have been grading the location of a future roundabout at the intersection of the new Highway 12 and County Road 5. The work zone is just south of the current Highway 12 intersection with County Road 5, which is closed during the construction period. Storm sewer pipes are scheduled to be placed in the roundabout, while electrical conduit for lighting and placing the aggregate base for the roundabout will take place in the near future.
"We intend to open that one shortly," Rasmussen said.
A roundabout will also be constructed at the new intersection of the realigned Highway 12 and First Avenue. Rasmussen said some grading has been done for this roundabout, but major construction of that will probably hold off until work begins on that piece of Highway 12.
The road construction portion of the Willmar Wye project 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 new rail track will link BNSF's Morris and Marshall Subdivision tracks. This will allow trains to travel between them without having to turn engines around in Willmar. The goal of the project is to reduce the number of trains coming into Willmar, decrease train noise and long waits at rail crossings and improve safety.
The project is estimated to cost around $47 million, and 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.