Klobuchar bill would clear path for new St. Croix River bridge

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.

Klobuchar’s bill is co-sponsored by all four affected senators, Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl and Republican Ron Johnson, as well as Al Franken. Franken’s co-signature marks the first time he’s said whether or not he supports a new bridge, as he had been officially undecided before this.

“Having all four senators is very significant,” Klobuchar said. It removes in-state opposition in the upper chamber, though Rep. Betty McCollum has been leading the fight against a highway-style bridge in the House. A similar bill has been introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann and Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind.

Klobuchar’s bill differs from Bachmann’s in that it doesn’t set the bridge project aside from the Wild and Scenic River Act, but rather uses the existing exemption process to move the project forward. Klobuchar met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Tuesday and received assurances that he’d assist in moving the legislation forward. She said meetings with Republican leadership in the Senate and relevant committee leaders revealed similar support.

“Both [the Department of the] Interior and Department of Transporation helped us draft this,” Klobuchar said, adding that she wants her bill “to be on a path where we could come together in the end.”

Opponents of the bridge say that, at a total cost of around $700 million, it’s way too expensive. The bridge would eventually funnel westbound traffic onto roads in Minnesota that can’t currently handle the increased load, increasing commute times, pollution and costing another $200 million or more. Minnesota has $363 million set aside for its share of the bridge project, according to state transportation officials.

“This Senate legislation is a disappointment,” McCollum said in a statement responding to the Klobuchar bill. “It achieves exactly the same outcome as Congresswoman Bachmann’s bill by removing protections for taxpayers in favor of an excessively large and costly bridge that overwhelmingly benefits Wisconsin.

“This Senate bill doesn’t change any of the facts or answer any of the concerns voiced by local officials and residents about this project. The Senate bill puts Minnesota taxpayers on the hook to fund the most expensive bridge ever built in the history of our state. If the traffic projections are accurate, this $700 million mega-bridge will push tens of thousands of semi-trailers and cars into the Minnesota Highway 36 corridor, which is already at capacity according to Minnesota Department of Transportation officials.”

Franken, for months, said he was studying the issue. Eventually, today, he made his support official.

“While I don’t think the proposed four-lane bridge is a perfect bridge by any means, the people of Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley need a new bridge and one that can be built without further years of delay,” Franken said in a statement. “I would have preferred a less expensive option but this is the bridge that’s been chosen through a decades-long process, and I support its construction.”

For more on the bridge project, see our in-depth coverage of the bridge issue earlier this month.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 05/29/2011 - 06:16 pm.

    I think it’s unethical for politicians to step in and alter projects when local grassroots people have an organization in place that supports what would be most beneficial to the people actually living there.
    We don’t need heroic legislators stepping in to act as dictators. A reasonable bridge could and should have been built years ago–by listening to the local people.
    Promoting more vehicle traffic seems to be the antithesis of what a future transportation system should be.

  2. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/31/2011 - 05:55 am.

    That’s correct, Elanne. Senator Franken, the people of this area have not spoken at all. They were never given a choice from MNDOT that included anything but a mega bridge that necessitates that 200 million dollar freeway extension through the heart of the current HW 36 business district. All other options were taken off the table as “unrealistic”. Also, Senator Franken, a concerted effort to offer up a more appropriate and less expensive design could be done very quickly and the entire process expedited if you and the other Senators were actually trying to save the public money or looked closely at what this bridge will do to the entire St. Croix Valley around Stillwater. Last night I drove home from the Wisconsin side into Stillwater on what should have been a busy Memorial Day weekend traffic situation and there were litterally just a few cars, I mean one other car on the bridge while I drove over it. Spending 700 million on this mega bridge to nowhere is obscene. What has happened to the reasoning part of your brain? Do you realize what will now have to be done to HW 36 in Stillwater to justify such an expensive freeway style bridge. Interchanges, ponds, exits and land condemnation on a scale Stillwater has never seen before. All for that nonexistant traffic. The river at Stillwater will undergo a fundamental, irreversable change. Light, sound and air pollution will be part of the historic South Hill Neighborhood. Sprawl type development will be the development model followed on both sides of the river, the most expensive for cities and counties to engage. Will there be commuters lining up to live in Wisconsin with 4 dollar gas? Do you like the Hudson situation around 94? That’s what Stillwater will get to hear and see. Do you like the sound of tires on bridge pavement? Good luck talking on the Andiamo or any other boat in that area when near the bridge. Since when did our budgets become so fat we can afford such an overbuild for a future that is no longer viable: building for satellite commuter villages that are subsidized by expensive roads and utility extensions. This entire project is absurd in the extreme. There is a reason it has never gone forward. It is too big, too expensive and in the end unnecessary. A much smaller bridge, lower in the valley would satisfy everyone’s needs at less than half the cost. Never, in the history of Minnesota, has such an outrageously expensive project benefited so few people in our state or had such insignificant effects on our State’s economy. Simply building it because one is tired of the argument ignores the underlying cause of that impasse. This bridge is irresponsible and a horrendous budget buster. A smaller bridge would leave over 300 million on the table, enough for the State’s share in a Viking stadium or our part of LRT, just to put it in perspective. I have never had trouble getting over the bridge at 5:00 on a holiday summer weekend heading into Wisconsin. 700 million. What are they thinking? Klobuchar, Franken, Bachmann, Dean and Haryski should have joined me last night to observe what should have been an example of why we needed that bridge, a huge holiday traffic jam trying to get home from the weekend. One problem, there was no traffic at all. The bridge was gloriously empty, a wonderful breeze bathing the Stillwater scene. Unbelievable.

  3. Submitted by John Hoffman on 06/06/2011 - 09:26 am.

    Stillwater needs this bridge, and twenty years ago wouldn’t be soon enough. Enough delay! Build a functional bridge that can handle the traffic and projected growth. The previous poster apparently doesn’t attempt to drive through downtown most afternoons. It’s nothing but congested gridlock with cars idling wasting gas and emitting exhaust into the air near the river. More than once recently I have mistakenly thought I could get through downtown reasonably, only to decide it would be quicker to turn around and find an alternate route. Stillwater should bear more of the commuting traffic that they’ve been diverting to Hudson, Osceola, & Hwy 8. Like many other great pieces of infrastructure, there are pictures of horrific doom & gloom put out by the opposition. Once it is up and built, those voices fade away and you are left with the many small voices of the masses who benefit from it, singing praises for it. Get ‘ER done!!! Yesterday.

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