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.