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St. Croix's mega-bridge will mostly benefit corporations, not citizens

The St. Croix bridge
Courtesy of MnDOT
Why does Minnesota need a mega-bridge at Stillwater?

Post election, if you want something new to question Rep. Michele Bachmann about, question her involvement in Minnesota’s St. Croix River bridge project. Until Bachmann stepped in, the various stakeholder groups were working on completing an appropriate compromise. When the new mega-bridge was suddenly pushed through it made no sense – on the surface. After all, there is a comparable bridge just a few miles away in Hudson. Bridge traffic in Stillwater didn't warrant a new bridge of such massive proportions. And Minnesota has bridge projects it can't even fund for repairs.

While the $700 million St. Croix River bridge project was passed with bipartisan support, it was led by a Republican representative at the same time the Republicans proposed funding cuts of $40 billion in federal transportation spending. 

Over the river, and through the frac sand hills

What was on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River, across from Stillwater, that was driving the so-called need for a mega-bridge? Frac sand. Frac-sand mining operations are "exploding" in St. Croix, Barron, Rusk, Dunn, and Chippewa Counties. The industry’s projected hundreds to thousands of trips per day by trucks carrying heavy frac-sand loads needed such a massive bridge. In north St. Paul on the Minnesota side of the river, rail yards list “frac sand loading” as part of advertised job descriptions.

The first choice for frac-sand transport would be by rail, but there is this wee bit of a problem with many of the railroads in Wisconsin. They are not up to the job. Many tracks in northwest Wisconsin are idle or in a state of disrepair, tracks would need to be built or rebuilt. And transfer fees are cost-prohibitive.

The Sept. 15, 2011, “Frac Sand Briefing” at the Minnesota State Capitol listed the following as one of three “issues” facing the frac-sand mining industry: “Access to Rail: While the Department [of Transportation] has been involved in acquiring and improving local rail spurs, there are many local lines in need of improvement before they could carry large-scale freight loads. High fees for switching cars from the secondary lines to the main ones used for interstate freight movements also lead to loads being trucked greater distances before finally being moved to rail.”

The other two “issues” cited, while couched as local government concerns, were essentially the industry’s concerns: “road weight restrictions” reducing profitability, and “disproportionate” liability for damage to local roads.

Another mode of frac sand transport is by river barge. The aggregate river terminals in Cottage Grove and St. Paul Park have truck access, not rail. It was also interesting to note Minnesota Department of Transportation statements that, “Currently, there are no active terminals on the St. Croix.” However there is a “non active” terminal at “the Xcel Energy [Allen S. King] plant at Bayport on the St. Croix River.” This non-active terminal is just a hop, skip, and four miles from the new mega bridge exit. There is also a rail line at the Xcel Energy Allen S. King plant.

With the building of the St. Croix River mega-bridge, all frac-sand transport bases would be covered.

Bucking the National Park Service

Who needs the frac sand? Oil and gas corporations do. Bachmann has long been advocating for, and been supported by, the oil and gas industry. By pushing the bridge project through, Bachmann accomplished a secondary effect. Bachmann and her corporate supporters have also long been attacking the Environmental Protection Agency, and degrading our environmental and health protections in order to promote corporate profits and power. Getting a precedent-setting exception to the Scenic and Wild Rivers Act to accommodate frac-sand mining fits their agenda of corporations first. Bachmann’s bill stipulated the mega-bridge be "deemed consistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act" (MPR) — despite the National Park Service having determined otherwise.

It is obvious why the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, celebrated. According to the Star Tribune, Walker referred to the project as a bridge called “cooperation.” A bridge called “corporation” would have been more apropos. As reported in Forbes, Walker’s recall election was won with plenty of oil, gas, and related industry money.

Why Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken, and Gov. Mark Dayton jumped onto instead of off the new bridge project is open to speculation. It is a pretty safe bet that without the intervention of Minnesota’s Democratic triumvirate pleading the case, President Barack Obama would have paid more attention to the National Park Service determination that “the proposed St. Croix River Crossing Project would have direct and adverse effects that cannot be avoided or eliminated.” (Pioneer Press) Apparently Bachmann and our senators believe they are better equipped to make decisions about the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway than the people in charge of it; so they just bypassed the law by introducing a bill that ignored it.

Franken said, “I want to make clear that this is a unique situation with unique needs, and that we are not declaring open season on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act” (Pioneer Press). But by setting the precedent and declaring it acceptable to ignore the act, they have opened the season with a frac-sand salvo.

And a sniper shot may well have come from Michael Wilhelmi, recent executive director/president of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing. According to its website, “The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing is a group of business, labor, government and community leaders from Minnesota and Wisconsin.” No mention of citizens. Nowhere on its website is there a list of its board of directors, sponsors, business and labor members.

The State of Minnesota however has a list of lobbyists. Lobbyists register and file termination with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. On Oct. 31, 2012, Wilhelmi terminated his role with the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing as a lobbyist “to influence legislative action” and “to influence the official actions of a metropolitan governmental unit.” Five days later, on Nov. 5, 2012, he turned around and registered “to influence legislative action” for the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota (ARM). As the ARM website states, “Aggregate is sand, gravel and crushed stone in their natural or processed state.” Frac sand.

Citizens versus corporations

According to the Pioneer Press, ‘The St. Croix River was one of the first Wild and Scenic Rivers designated by Congress in 1968; the Lower St. Croix was added in 1972 through the efforts of the late Gaylord Nelson, who served as both Wisconsin governor and U.S. senator, and former Minnesota Sen. and Vice President Walter Mondale.” … ‘[In 2011] Mondale submitted written testimony opposing the [bridge] bill. “I believe the huge bridge that would be authorized by this measure is a brutal assault on one of the most magnificent rivers in America,” he wrote.’

Ironically, a catalyst for bringing the St. Croix River under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was the intrusive Xcel Energy Allen S. King plant. Yet Klobuchar and others are now implying that their massive mega bridge is not an issue because the Xcel Energy Allen S. King plant is already next door, with its obtrusively massive smokestack. So much for precedence not having an impact!

None of them mentions that, as emission concerns mount, the Xcel Energy Allen S. King coal-fired plant’s smokestack could soon become obsolete and be removed – as the Xcel Energy High Bridge plant’s stack was four years ago. Their new mega-bridge, however, would be left as a permanent blight on the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River.  

What a difference a few decades can make in politicians and political motivations, transporting us from legislation designed to benefit generations of Minnesota citizens to legislation designed to benefit corporations first and foremost, and at citizen expense.

Corporations have been bestowed with so-called personhood. What about the rest of us?  We all deserve equal influence as well as equal representation under the law. 

C.A. Arneson lives on a lake in the Ely area.

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If you're interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices commentary, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.

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Comments (47)

Connecting the dots

Thanks for doing this.The St. Croix bridge had become a local issue some time ago with the main issue being "relieving the congestion in downtown Stillwater" or maybe saving the lift bridge. This piece persuasively presets the case for a more sinister plan behind the bridge. I believe it. I'm not surprised though. Today's politicians have proved they cannot be trusted to protect our collective health and welfare or our environment. Of course they are all connected.

The St. Croix bridge is one of those truly bad ideas that people are not quite sure why, then forget why anybody, including themselves ever opposed it and then come to regret having lived to see the deplorable consequences. I'd be in favor of renaming this bridge the Bachmann-Walker Sand-Frac Memorial Bridge just so their names will forever live on in infamy.

Poor Stillwater

That bridge is going to go up and they're going to go down. It's also interesting that the business boys longstanding aversion to "choo choos" is now creating so many obstacles for them.

Whine, Whine, Whine

The Stillwater Bridge had been in the works long before there was sand fracking and other issues. What caused it to become a mega bridge was the 20 year delay and the increase in traffic.

You all may see Stillwater as a place to play, my family for the last 120 years has seen it as a place to live. This bridge is long over due and the only irrational part of the process was that environmental groups blocked it for so long.

The River may have been designated wild and scenic (actually in my opinion it is a lot less scenic than the Mississippi River Gorge downstream of the University) but that denies a great deal of it's history as a commercial transportation corridor for lumber and actual center of commerce for the region. The designation should never have extended to the commercial navigation channel.

It is good to know that there are left wing conspiracy theorist as well as right wing conspiracy theorists.

Now if you could just address yourselves to something meaningful like say housing the homeless that would be helpful.

$700 million would buy a lot of housing for the homeless,...

...but then you would have to give up the convenience of your bridge.

Just sayin'.

How many Funerals would $700 million pay for?

The bridge is in much worse shape than the the I-35W bridge was. I won't drive over it. This should have been replaced years ago. Have you seen what traffic is like through Bayport since the bridge has closed. This is truely the most iresponsible article I have ever read.

Mega-bridge

Where does it say in the article that the bridge doesn't need to be replaced? This article is about the size of the proposed bridge, and who is promoting it.

Jody - I do not have the

Jody - I do not have the knowledge to comment on the author's analysis, but I do want to reply to your comment. The reason the bridge always has been a mega-bridge is because (a) it was pushed by development interests in western Wisconsin and the communities there that believed their prosperity would follow from Twin Cities bedroom development; and (b) at the time, the two state transportation agencies in their hidebound 1980's thinking were not able to conceive of any greater good than building infrastructure as massively as possible to carry as many cars as possible. This mindset established the project's parameters three decades ago and the sunk commitments of bureaucracy forced the project forward even when the growth bubble for western Wisconsin burst last decade.

Again, the new bridge is a non sequitur with respect to traffic issues in Stillwater. Stillwater's traffic issues are solved by closing the lift bridge to motorized traffic. Whether a replacement bridge should be built is an entirely separate question that should need to be justified on its merits, but never has been. Perhaps the frac sand motive is conspiratorial, but at least its a motive and the first I've actually heard articulated for the bridge. Personally I'm not so invested in the Wild & Scenic Rivers issue, but I'd rather not throw away a billion dollars to do nothing but tear more minerals from the ground for construction and generate more fossil fuel combustion.

Common Sense

The mega-bridge just doesn't make sense. No traffic counts or estimates I've ever seen justifies it where there is a perfectly good interstate bridge six miles away.

Unfortunately, Paul Udstrand is correct. Stillwater business owners are going to rue the day they moved that "problem traffic" out of their business center.

I don't believe fracking has anything to do with this. It's much simpler: real estate developers. They've been chomping at the bit to develop of the east bank of the St. Croix for some time. And we continue to march to the drum of unsustainable sprawl.

St. Croix County railroads

Both the Canadian National (CN) and Union Pacific (UP) operate modern, up to date freight rail lines in St. Croix County and there are over a dozen stations between the two located within the county. So the claim that there isn't existing rail service available is simply wrong.

In any case, St. Croix County isn't the locus of frac sand mining as the geologic formations containing the sands most suitable for fracking are located either further east in Dunn and Chippewa counties in Wisconsin or further west in Minnesota.

So I have to agree with Jody and say that this edition of Community Voices is just so much conspiracy theorizing.

Nowhere is it stated in the

Nowhere is it stated in the commentary that, “there isn't existing rail service available.” It states that, “there are many local lines in need of improvement before they could carry large-scale freight loads. High fees for switching cars from the secondary lines to the main ones used for interstate freight movements also lead to loads being trucked greater distances before finally being moved to rail.” And that statement came from the Minnesota State Capitol during its frac sand briefing.

St. Croix County was not singled out in the commentary; it was included with Barron, Rusk, Dunn, and Chippewa Counties as part of a frac sand area. During the briefing all five counties were included on a list of counties where frac sand was predominantly found. The following are additional statements from the frac sand briefing at the State Capitol:

“A key issue related to rail transport of frac sand is the acquisition and rehabilitation of the Canadian National Railway/Wisconsin Central Limited (CN/WCL) and Union Pacific (UP) Railroad lines in Barron and Chippewa counties.”

“Carmeuse [sand company] has indicated that if the Cameron to Barron/Almena line is not rehabilitated its alternative would be to truck the sand to Ladysmith [Rusk County] or other locations in Wisconsin or Minnesota to be loaded on rail. This would increase truck traffic on highways, which could increase road maintenance costs and reduce roadway/structure service life.”

“CN/WCL may reopen the Cameron to Ladysmith line. If CN/WCL does not pursue reopening the line, Carmeuse will likely request that WisDOT purchase and rehabilitate that 34 mile long line segment, which is not currently in WisDOT’s plans.”

”WisDOT has awarded Freight Railroad Assistance Program grants and loans and is in the process of awarding additional grants and loans to assist in the preservation of freight railroad service on CN/WCL-owned lines from Cameron to Rice Lake and Cameron to Almena, and the UP-owned line from Cameron to Norma (Chippewa Falls).” … “In 2009, car loadings on these rail lines totaled approximately 1,800 cars per year. WisDOT project evaluations and decisions to participate were based on this traffic level. Current estimates [2011] of frac sand traffic are as high as 140,000 loaded cars per year (600,000 loaded trucks) if fully developed. Expected revenue generated by frac sand traffic would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.”

Your assertion is that the bridge

was built with the hidden intent to transport frac sand. The fact that St. Croix County (and for that matter Dunn County) has two major rail lines that are more than capable of handling freight cars loaded with it refutes your claim. If you can't be bothered to address information that pertains to the subject you yourself raised in the first place, please don't bother replying again. Bringing up frac sand mining in locations such as Ladysmith, WI that are closer to said rail lines than the new bridge in Stillwater has nothing to do with your original claim.

For those who would like more complete information about the subject of frac sand mining operations, here's a very good place to start:

wcwrpc.org/Frac_Sand/frac_sand.html

The quote containing

The quote containing Ladysmith was pertinent because of the “locations in Wisconsin or Minnesota” portion of the sentence. However, the main purpose of the additional information was to give examples of the current deficiencies in rail support. The commentary was addressing the lack of secondary lines to support main ones and was apparent in doing so, despite your inability to recognize it.

That having been said, the

That having been said, the following information may also interest readers. Mr. Clark made the assertion that the two main lines “are more than capable of handling freight cars loaded with it [frac sand].” Questionable.

When it comes to hauling freight, rail lines are only as good as the bridges they cross, in this case particularly river bridges. The Canadian National line and the Union Pacific line cross over the Saint Croix River on bridges that have been in use for more than a hundred years. Trying to find inspection records or studies that indicate whether these bridges have the capability to carry sustained frac sand freight at the levels projected is a challenge.

The Stillwater lift bridge that needs replacing was built in 1932. Currently the Canadian National Arcola/Soo Line High Bridge near Somerset (completed in 1911) and the Union Pacific Swing Bridge near Hudson (opened in 1913) reportedly carry five and six trains per day respectively. If secondary rail lines in northwest Wisconsin are eventually up to the task, and frac sand transport increases to the speculated levels, it would be questionable how long or if the two rail bridges could handle the increase in freight traffic by the frac sand industry.

According to North Dakota’s Strategic Freight Analysis, “the ability of a given bridge to handle prolonged rail traffic also decreases as wheel loads increase.” Wisconsin has been concerned about the ability of its bridges to handle freight loads with the weight standard change from 263,000 pounds to 286,000 pounds per rail car.

In 2006, a limited study by WisDOT of twenty-six bridges in the southeastern part of the state gave scores ranging from poor to fair for timber bridges, and fair to good for steel bridges (one third of the steel bridges had been recently rehabilitated). Not exactly a ringing endorsement, especially since there were only six bridges in the study that were in the steel category (3 steel, 2 timber and steel, 1 reinforced concrete).

Yet this small sample was later extrapolated to all steel bridges of the state-owned system; the Wisconsin Department of Transportation implying that all steel bridges could handle 286,000-pound rail cars. The study itself refuted this assumption: “Please note, the sample of steel and concrete bridges may not be representative of remaining bridges in the Wisconsin & Southern inventory. Further evaluations should be performed to determine the carrying capacities of the remaining bridges.

The WisDOT study found that the switch to 286,000-pound rail cars meant an “increase in load of almost 9% to be borne by rail bridges around the state. Wisconsin DOT owns and manages about 600 miles of railroad lines, a system that includes over 200 bridges, most of which are 40 to 80 years old.”

What the study does not address is industry freight use of 315,000-pound cars, not something either Canadian National or Union Pacific would be able to handle without major upgrades to lines and bridges. More importantly, the study of the Wisconsin-owned system does not contain any mention of the far greater number of bridges owned and maintained by railroad corporations on their own lines. Which brings up the issues of bridge inspections and proprietary rights.

In July of 2012, a Union Pacific bridge (built in 1930 and jointly owned with Canadian National) collapsed near Chicago when 28 of 138 coal cars destined for Wisconsin derailed and piled up on the bridge. Tragically, the collapse killed a husband and wife who were driving under the bridge at the time. Reportedly the bridge had been inspected, but was the site of two other past derailments. In November of 2012, a Conrail derailment and partial collapse of a swing style bridge in New Jersey also made the news, and it too had been the site of a previous problem. As highlighted by the Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of the New Jersey collapse: “The two failures in three years raised questions about the quality of freight rail bridge inspections, which are left to bridge owners.”

“’The owners of the nation's 77,000 freight rail bridges are required to inspect their bridges at least once a year, but they need not disclose the results of those inspections. ... Rail bridges ‘are really a massive network of blind spots for federal safety regulators,’ said Pat Salvi, a Chicago personal-injury lawyer who has written on rail bridge safety. ‘We have allowed the railroads to police themselves, the theory being that it was in their interest to maintain them well.’” (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Reported in the Huffington Post: “The Federal Railroad Administration [FRA] doesn't routinely inspect the structural safety of bridges owned by freight railroads, although it does inspect the tracks and can do an inspection if it receives a complaint or if track inspectors notice a problem.” On his law office website Salvi stated: “railroad companies aren’t required to share the results of bridge safety inspections—even with the Federal Railroad Administration [FRA], which oversees the industry.”

The inspection records for the Canadian National freight bridge near Somerset and the Union Pacific freight bridge near Hudson, each spanning the St. Croix River, are not open to the public. The records are “proprietary,” meaning they belong to the corporations. According to an FRA spokesperson, it would take a FOIA request to find out if the FRA had been given any inspection reports by the two corporations. And any information the FRA did have would then be released only after it was determined whether or not there were any legal restrictions and/or redactions necessary.

One interesting tidbit in the Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan: “The Hudson Bridge crosses the St. Croix River on the Union Pacific’s Altoona Subdivision. The current bridge is a steel through truss center pivot swing span. A proposed replacement bridge would be a 160-foot-long single track vertical lift span. The estimated cost of the bridge is $87 million.”

build it fast!

I just hope that the same people who build the Lowry Ave Bridge are not involved in the building of the St. Croix Bridge.

Love the Lowry bridge

As someone who lives in the neighborhood, we Love the Lowry bridge. I don't know what you're on about.

The name of the bridge

One reader says it should be "Bachmann-Walker Sand-Frac Memorial Bridge". Then I click on a related link to this story and read:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation that would clear the way for a four-lane, highway-style bridge over the St. Croix River to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The pol with the most influence in getting the bridge going, is not blamed by the environmentalists. Huh?

Bridge

Good point, Jim. And I voted for Klobuchar!

Jim, which "environmentalists" do you know?

I know a number, and a number of folks concerned about sprawl and regional vitality, and all of them abhor the bridge, and all of them blame Ms Klobuchar and Mssrs Franken and Dayton for it. It was Ms Bachmann's idea to resurrect it, but there's no evidence that she or her staff is capable of accomplishing something legislatively. Without the three Democrats the federal legislation never would have happened.

And just so no one feels left

And just so no one feels left out, Senator Klobuchar was included in the commentary, but ended up on the cutting room floor. I do not question the edit, just wanted Klobuchar fans and non-fans alike to know she was not overlooked.

Klobuchar

Ms. Klobuchar is gung ho for mining in the Superior National Forest, too. While i generally support the DFL, she did not get my vote this year. She makes a great point of how she leans across the isle. Lets hope she doesn't fall clear over to the other side.

Come on...

" 'Aggregate is sand, gravel and crushed stone in their natural or processed state.' Frac sand."

That is an enormous jump to make. Aggregate is mainly the quarried the substances that are used in making concrete for roads, bridges, buildings, and other generally publicly useful things, substances that we also happen to be running out of in our metro-area quarries. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of saying "Well, then we just need to go and dig up Wisconsin to get more limestone", but to say that aggregate = frac sand, so omg everybody freak out about this thing, is pretty disingenuous.

The argument of "corporations" or "business interests" versus citizens can be made without the implication of whatever hot-button cause-du-jour is currently making hearts bleed - in this case frac sand. Because while this may well be a case of evil, corporation-y corporations pushing their agenda via transportation infrastructure policy (not to mention the always-suspect machinations of Representative Crazy-eyes) it's not some cloak-and-dagger conspiracy to undermine the voice of the citizenry in the name of Big Energy.

Let's just call this bridge what it is: an overpriced and bigger than necessary piece of infrastructure that was negotiated in bad faith. It's bad public policy, and there were better ways to do this.

au contraire

The listing of "Frac sand" after "Aggregate is sand, gravel and crushed stone in their natural or processed state" does not assume that frac sand is the only "substance" that ARM promotes. It does point out that frac sand is also an aggregate, one that is now becoming a major component of ARM. If you go to ARM's website you will notice that the only "substance" warranting a link is Industrial Silica Sand.

As for the Aggregate and

The listing of "Frac sand" after "Aggregate is sand, gravel and crushed stone in their natural or processed state" does not assume that frac sand is the only "substance" that ARM promotes. It does point out that frac sand is also an aggregate, one that is now becoming a major component of ARM. If you go to ARM's website you will notice that the only "substance" warranting a link is Industrial Silica Sand.

Chuck infrastructure isn't built for today

I worked for an agency whose projected project life for infrastructure was 50 years and occasionally 100. We could only wish that the Vikings and Twins would have a longer planning horizon.

This bridge is no exception it is not built for today's traffic nor should it be. If MNDOT planners considered the next few years only then they should all be fired. My guess is their planning horizon is 100 years for bridges. At least that's when they seem to get replaced.

If you haven't been to the Wisconsin side of the river you may not have seen their completed 4 lane but can you imagine anything dumber than to have two four lays compress down to two lanes to cross the river. That would be pretty much a bottle neck and accident zone waiting to happen.

As for travel into and out of Wisconsin apparently you all haven't looked at the maps. Perhaps you should I94 and MNTH 36/65 don't go in the same direction.

As for using this money for housing the homeless the same could be said for lots of other government purchases that support narrow interests like the Viking Stadium, LSOHC funding, and dare I say, it Met Council.

Bridge lifespan

MNDoT has stated that the new bridge's estimated lifespan will be 100 years. Given that the existing lift bridge is now over 80 years old, this seems reasonable enough. That's why proposals limiting the bridge to two lanes were rejected during the process.

Background information on this as well as more on the need for a new bridge and why it's located where it is can be found here for anyone who is interested in learning more:

www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/stcroix/

.

About 15 years ago, I had reason to examine the modeling and traffic projections pretty closely. They were crude extrapolations, didn't involve any reasoned assumptions on factors relevant to business or residential location choices over the project life, and didn't bear any relationship to Met Council regional development or system plans even though they were legally required to.

But my view is that there should be no bridge, period. Under that scenario, you can model the bridge traffic pretty precisely: zero now, zero in 100 years. If you build the bridge, you induce development and travel demand and it's self-fulfilling. If you don't build the bridge, that part of Wisconsin ceases to develop as a sprawled adjunct to the Twin Cities metropolitan area. A few folks already there suffer the inconvenience for their choice to live on the other side of a major river from where they want to work or shop, but the message is sent as to how the region and its infrastructure will develop, and developers, businesses and ordinary folks will make their decisions accordingly. There's no unfairness in that (except to some landowners/speculators who were counting on a windfall); just good planning for compact, sustainable development.

Legally speaking

if MnDoT failed to live up to a requirement under the law regarding the bridge, I'm surprised the Sierra Club didn't notice. Then again, I am not a lawyer but then, neither are you. So I'll take your claim with the requisite truck load of road salt.

Actually, the Mn Center for Envt'l Advocacy did notice.

And in about 1997, sued the Met Council to require it to deny the allocation of federal funds to the project on the ground that it was not consistent with the Met Council's regional growth management and infrastructure plans (by statute, federal highway funds cannot be spent in the metropolitan area until the Met Council determines that the expenditure is consistent with its plans).

The case went all the way to the Mn Supreme Court which, with an eye toward the bureaucratic/private interest juggernaut, ruled that it was a political matter that the courts had no role in deciding. So no, there is no court decision finding that MnDOT did not follow the law, but had the court chosen to decide, the facts were pretty clear (though I was working with MCEA at the time so you may apply your road salt to my assessment as you wish). (The Sierra Club's focus always has been on the Wild & Scenic River aspect, while MCEA's principal concern has been the regional development implications.)

Planning for 100 years show this more overbuilt that it appears

If planning for the next 100 (or even 50) years is the requirement, then MNDOT has made a HUGE boo boo. Vehicle Miles Traveled -- a key indicator for how much it might be used in the future, although a problematic one as research shows that building capacity increases demand -- is decreasing in Minnesota and especially in the Metro. If it's too big for today's demand, it's likely to be even too bigger for future demand.

Check out the graphs here:

MinnPost report from earlier this year: http://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2012/03/minnesotans-are-driving-less-m...

MNDOT's own report (see page 2, and keep reading): http://www.dot.state.mn.us/traffic/data/reports/traffic%20volume/VMT_Tre...

The trend is even national http://www.ssti.us/2012/02/motor-vehicle-travel-demand-continues-long-te...

Analysis for federally funded transportation

is uniform throughout the country. From my experience with the local engineering firms most don't understand the black box they use, but rest assured it is the same black box. Like all black boxes it can be "gamed" but you have to know enough about it to do it, and frankly I haven't seen that.

My gut reaction based on looking at any transportation modeling (and I have done a lot of economic modeling) is that the results seem high particularly in the area of accident reduction (loss of life). But I suspect they have few options in modifying the black box and the argument about "what a life is worth." is not one that is generally embraced by the public.

The analysis is the analysis and it's key purpose is comparative not absolute.

aggregates not equal to frac sand

Aggregates are sand, gravel and crushed stone used in asphalt and concrete production. Most aggregate mines in Minnesota don't have the industrial sand used for hydraulic fracturing, and most members of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association have little to do with it.

Renee McGivern, communications consultant
Aggregate and Ready Mix Association

As a Stillwaterite

I have followed the pro and con arguments for a new bridge over the years. I have long been convinced of the need for a new bridge to replace the lift bridge, but I've never found the case for a mega, freeway-style bridge to be compelling. I think the noise and increased traffic coming from this bridge will cause surprise and regret in Stillwater residents. I've assumed that Bachmann was so vociferous in her bridge support simply because she needed some accomplishment to back up her claim that she has done anything at all for her constituents. But in light of her propensity for corporate boot-licking, Arneson's perspective makes a certain amount of sense.

Bottom line

The bottom line here is that a compromise had been reached regarding the St. Croix River Bridge. Then all at once the politcal heavy-weighters jumped in--Bachmann, followed by Klobuchar, Dayton, and Franken. They derailed the compromise in favor of a bridge that required exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Exactly how and why did this happen? This article gives a plausible explanation.
It is widely being circulated that Senator Klobuchar has aspirations for a presidential run. Perhaps she is completing with Rep. Bachmann for big-money backers for her coffers.

Responsible Parties

Many of these comments are right on. The legislators most responsible for the passage of the most expensively useless infrastructure in Minnesota History are in order 1)Norm Coleman who passed legislation as a Senator that required this bridge be a freeway style four lane minimum. That legislation impacted the process right up to the end. 2) Amy Klobuchar carried the water on the passage of the legislation getting the funding to build the bridge. Bachmann did not have the ability, expertise or concentration to do the hard work necessary for passage. 3)Stillwater Mayor Ken Haryski led the misinformation campaign that was necessary to justify the obscene cost of this bridge in a minor transportation corridor. In fact he was nearly prosecuted for taking Stillwater TIFF money and giving it to the St. Croix Coalition for private lobbying. I have talked to legislators that concede the process and precedent set in violating the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is already being used and followed all over the country by Highwayt Departments, municipalities and other developers to push construction projects and development in protected river corridors. In effect, Klobuchars legislation has significantly diminished one of the most effective and simple environmental acts in the history of our country. And to justify a freeway type bridge, HW 36 upgrades are now necesssary to the tune of a couple hundred million dollars. Upgrades that didn't need to happen. Traffic projections are already dropping and traffic counts are less now than they were a decade ago. Never has Minnesota spent so much on infrastructure that benefits so few. This project is a true transportation hog. It will prevent the upgrading and repair of hundreds of bridges by diverting funds to a behemouth environmentally unwise and truly destructive bridge. Just for the record, the stakeholders process was anything but. Those that wanted a sensible, smaller span were NEVER acknowledged and alternatives that were promised them never materialized. MNDOT never intended to build anything but a gargantuan span concieved in the transportation realities of the 90's that encouraged unwise, expensive, taxpayer funded sprawl development. Even MNDOT has acknowledged that it doesn't really fit their 50-yr plan to build no new major transportation corridors. This boondoggle is now in motion, I suggest taking a trip to Pioneer Park to take your picture over the river without this absurd symbol of unwise deveopment and environmental destruction filling up the river view.

What was that?

"The legislators most responsible for the passage of the most expensively useless infrastructure in Minnesota History..."

The new taxpayer funded Twins and Vikings Stadiums?

Good catch

He must have meant "one of the top few" most expensive useless infrastructure projects, because this bridge would come in at a distant 3rd, though I might be overlooking a boondoggle or two.

Road and bridge builders must admire the kind of grease that pro sports has to apply to legislators, city councils, mayors, etc. - if they did, this would be a $2 billion dollar bridge !!

You are assuming

No cost overruns and from what I have read about the necessary footings, this project could make the stadium cheap. Plus MN pays more than WI - it is a joke.

Stillwater bridge

Attached is a letter that I sent to all the politicians and appropriate officials ,in both states, last summer. I found that no demographic or financial analysis was done to justify the monster bridge. To my dismay,Amy joined "MInnesota's Great Embarrassment " in supporting the bridge by declaring that the bridge would add 3000 jobs per year.

I have lived in Bayport for more than 30 years and am well aware of the problems the traffic causes in downtown Stillwater where the congestion and pollution are objectionable. Probably the worse problem is caused by those who drive through residential sections to circumvent the backed-up traffic on highway 36/95 at the bridge. The real problem is not the bridge, the problem is Stillwater. Driving through Stillwater it is obvious that the main cause of congestion are the various stop lights and sharp turns at the bridge.

With only 9,000 vehicles per day it is easy to figure that a two-lane bridge unobstructed at each end could carry the traffic and there would be no problem!! If for example, if the traffic moved slowly at 30 mph with a distance between cars of 50 feet, the bridge could handle 3000 cars per hour. There might be a little slow-down during rush hour, during the periods that Andersen Windows has shift changes as many employees live in Wisconsin, or during the boating season when the lift bridge is raised during non-rush hours.

The need for a four lane $700,000,000 bridge at Stillwater is hard to justify. The bridge primarily serves commuters from St. Croix County because Wisconsin east of this county is very sparsely populated. The major cities serviced by the bridge are Holton, Hudson, Somerset, New Richmond and Boomer. These cities have a population of 30,000 people while the population of St.Croix County is 85,000 in the incorporated areas. Looking at these numbers, it is hard to see how these few people would need such a big bridge. The prospect for St. Croix County to grow substantially is slim. In fact last year, the total bridge count dropped from 18,000 to 17,000 perhaps caused by the employment situation/economy.

At the expense of sounding heretical, I would propose that a similar lift bridge be constructed about a half-mile south of current site. With no obstructions it could handle the traffic very far into the future. Ralph H. Larson

Let it go folks, just let it go

This is getting to be embarrassing. Move on. Find another pet project to gnash your teeth over.

Frankly

I find the issues disturbing - it smells from various angles including politics, the oil and gas industry, real estate speculation and the construction industry. Pay for it with a user fee.

Moe on indeed

When Stillwater is a ghost town like downtown Jordon you will find that we've all "moved on". And you'll begging us to come back.

Hey, when you go

please take former Mayor Beaudet with you. I'm beggin' ya!

Yes please move on to Jordon

You can let me know how you like the fall colors and view across newly cleaned Minnesota River if you can see it from town any where in town.

Hastings, or perhaps Red Wing, and the urbanites can hang out in the Mill District which actually is pretty neat, Excelsior is good too why not Chanhassen or Arden Hills (Arden Hills really?) Lino Lakes, Savage or Shoreview they made Money magazines top places to live. Plenty of options for you.

You don't have to come to the town Forbes rated one of the prettiest small towns in the US in 2011

Frankly anyone who wants to leave Stillwater because of the bridge is exploiting the resident population. Much as the logging companies and mining companies did in Northern Minnesota but with a more subtle distruction. So please, please move on.

Giant bridge

Ah yes. Stillwater is beautiful. However, I have a hard time imagining how it will look with a giant 4-lane bridge obstructing all the pretty parts.

While I'm not sure I buy the fracking sands corporate bridge theory, I do predict that this project will be a huge blight on both the view and the pocketbook. I believe that Klobuchar, and the others' that supported it, were WAY out of line on this one. It is the type of legislative pork that makes it so distasteful.

Oh, and the big giant bridge where the fall leafs used to be

Yeah, can't see fall leaves anywhere but Stillwater. You'll also be able see the big giant bridge from anywhere in town.

Thank you for this article

You haven't proved the bridge is about frac sand hauling, but it's a credible explanation for something that hasn't made any sense to me. Why would Dayton, et al, support a project that seems to encourage Minnesotans to move out of state? (Granted, I have almost unlimited faith in the bad judgement of Dayton, Klobuchar, and Franken. They may not be as nutty as Bachmann, but they are close enough on too many issues....)

Can you tell us more about the "frac sand briefing" you mentioned?

am

Frac sand briefing

Here is a link to the briefing.

http://www.marshfieldchamber.com/mmm/Frac Sand Info/Frac Sand Briefing Materials 2011 09 15.pdf