WILLMAR — The public had a chance Wednesday to weigh in and learn more about upcoming improvements to the network of Kandiyohi County highways at the south end of the railroad bypass corridor.
The project is among many changes that drivers will encounter in the next couple of years in conjunction with the multimillion-dollar bypass, known as the wye, underway on the west edge of Willmar. As the new tracks are built along the two-mile bypass corridor, the roads within the corridor also must be rerouted and reconnected.
"Our goal is to reset our road network as a result of the wye," said Mel Odens, director of Kandiyohi County Public Works.
A small but interested audience turned out for the open house Wednesday to view maps and aerial photos. Overhead footage shot with a drone played on a pair of screens to give the public a bird's-eye view of the area where the road improvements are planned.
Construction will start to take shape next summer on realigning Kandiyohi County Road 5/15 just north of Minnesota Highway 23 and giving the highway a more gradual curve where the two routes come together. This portion of the overall project is estimated at $1 million.
"This project will be built next year. We're hoping a year from today you'll be able to drive on it," Odens said.
A temporary connection also will be created that allows traffic on County Road 55, just to the west and on the other side of the railroad tracks, to maintain access to County Road 5/15 for the next couple of years until the entire project is finished.
"It's going to allow us to do the ultimate connection of County Road 55 over the railroad tracks," Odens explained.
The final phase of the highway corridor redesign will involve construction of an overpass to link the two county highways and facilitate safe and efficient traffic flow through the corridor. It is scheduled to start in 2021.
At an estimated $7.8 million, the overpass is the most expensive piece for Kandiyohi County in the overall improvements. Most of the funding is expected to come from a combination of state bonding dollars requested by the county and proceeds from a countywide local option sales tax implemented last year for specific county road projects, including the wye overpass.
One of the questions Odens hears most often is why the project is being carried out in stages instead of being constructed all at once. It mostly comes down to funding, he said. "We're working with state funding dollars. We're working with sales tax dollars. It all has to come together."
As a whole, the railroad bypass project is one of the largest and most complex in the Willmar area in recent years. Multiple jurisdictions — Kandiyohi County, the city of Willmar, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, BNSF Railway and the Federal Railroad Administration — and millions of dollars are involved.
The scope and the complexity have increased the need to keep the public informed, prompting Wednesday's open house to provide information on Kandiyohi County's plans for the south end of the corridor.
"People want clarification on schedules and how it fits into the wye and the vision for economic growth and safety," Odens said. "They want it to be done correctly. That's the biggest thing I hear."