WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and Seventh District Rep. Collin Peterson Tuesday announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for Willmar’s rail connector and industrial access wye project.

Local officials unofficially announced the grant Monday.

Lawmakers said there is a significant bottleneck in the current regional rail network that blocks rail crossings and halts traffic in Willmar.

The grant will be used in a $48.83 million collaborative public-private project to construct approximately 10,000 feet of track between two Burlington Northern Santa Fe main lines and bypass train traffic west of Willmar. Other project partners besides BNSF are the City of Willmar, Kandiyohi County, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

Officials said the project will alleviate congestion, expand rail capacity and improve safety in the region by updating Willmar’s rail infrastructure. The benefits of this project will extend throughout Minnesota and region as it enhances accessibility, efficiency, and reliability of the state’s entire transportation system, they said.

“With the increase in freight rail traffic in Minnesota, it’s absolutely critical that we invest in our rail infrastructure to ensure rural businesses can get their goods to market while improving safety for communities along rail routes,” Klobuchar said. “That is why I worked to help secure a TIGER grant for the Willmar rail connector project, which will help alleviate congestion, boost economic opportunity, and improve safety in Willmar.’’

Franken said investing in Minnesota's transportation infrastructure not only strengthens the economy but also makes families and communities safer.

"I worked together with state and local officials to get federal support for the Willmar wye project because we know how important it is to the region. This funding means fewer trains in downtown Willmar, safer roads, and new possibilities for economic development,’’ Franken said. Dayton said the funding will help make essential improvements to reduce traffic congestion, support area businesses, and enhance the public's safety.

Dayton said he worked with the Legislature last session to invest $3.77 million in the project, and urged the federal transportation secretary to provide federal support.

"I thank Congressman Peterson, and Senators Franken and Klobuchar for their efforts to secure this additional federal investment,’’ Dayton said.

With the re-routing of train movement from the middle of town, Willmar residents will be much safer, and traffic throughout the community will improve, Peterson said.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership that will improve safety, livability and economic sustainability in the community,’’ Peterson said.

The grant is $5 million short of the $15 million that had been requested by the partners. Willmar Mayor Marv Calvin praised the grant. But he said the question now will be finding the remaining $5 million.