Willmar Wye project wins regional transportation award


— For almost a year the Willmar Rail Connector and Industrial Access Project, better known as the

Willmar Wye

, has been safely and efficiently moving train traffic around the city. Now that project is award-winning.

It was announced Friday that the

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

has selected the Willmar Wye to receive a regional America's Transportation Award. The project was chosen from a pool of 23 projects from the Mid American Association of State Transportation Officials, one of four regional AASHTO associations.

The Wye specifically was awarded the

Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium Category award

for the benefits the project has shown for the community, including lessening rail traffic congestion at crossings, enhancing safety and encouraging economic growth.

"The Willmar Wye has been an amazingly effective public-private partnership with each organization contributing to the project's ultimate success and impressive results in safety and rail efficiencies, as well as providing a foundation for economic development," said Jon Huseby, district engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8, in a press release announcing the award. Huseby accepted the award on behalf of MnDOT and other project partners at the annual MAASTO conference.

The Willmar Wye was a public-private partnership between the city of Willmar, Kandiyohi County, BNSF Railway, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Kandiyohi County & City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

It started in earnest back in 2015 when it received a $10 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant. All totaled, the project cost around $50 million with funding coming from various sources and partners.

The project was managed by MnDOT staff from District 8, based in Willmar.

The Hoffman Team was chosen as the project contractor to design and build the road portion of the project, which included realigning U.S. Highway 12, construction of two bridges that would route road traffic over the new rail line, two roundabouts and an access road for businesses located on First Avenue West. Road construction began in July 2019 and was finished in 2021.

BNSF began construction of the new rail line in the fall of 2021, with construction wrapping up in September 2022. The new track runs between the Morris and Marshall subdivision lines. The Morris route runs parallel to Highway 12, while the Marshall track runs alongside Kandiyohi County Roads 55 and 15 and Minnesota Highway 23.

With the wye in place, trains are now able to travel between the subdivision lines without having to come into Willmar and turn engines around. This reduces train traffic at rail/road crossings, decreases conflicts between vehicles and trains, and reduces train noise in the city of Willmar. The wye track's location, on the west side of Willmar along the Industrial Park, will allow for a rail spur to one day be constructed into the park, providing current and future businesses direct access to rail transportation.

The AASHTO is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association that represents highway and transportation department in all 50 states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

If the Willmar Wye is named one of the

top three projects in the MAASTO region

, it will move forward to the national competition.