WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill authorizing a new $690 million bridge over the St. Croix River in Stillwater on Monday night.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar sponsored the bill, which would allow the construction of a new bridge to replace the 80-year-old span that currently crosses the St. Croix River into Wisconsin. It’s the first time either the full House or Senate has moved on the bill, which has the support of a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Klobuchar, a Democrat, in the Senate and Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in the House. If the House passes the bill, it will go to President Obama for his signature.
Both Klobuchar and Bachmann praised the Senate’s passage as a major victory for the bill Monday night, and Bachmann promised similar passage in the House.
“I look forward to the next step, which is passing this legislation in the House of Representatives,” Bachmann said in a statement. “I am confident that this bill will be brought up before the House and the proposed St. Croix River Crossing Project will become a reality.”
The four-lane bridge project has been held up by bureaucratic red tape for more than 15 years, as federal agencies have denied various bridge proposals as detrimental the St. Croix River, a federally protected waterway. Proponents say the current bridge proposal has enough environmental mitigation measures attached to it to protect the river, and the bill that passed Monday night would exempt the project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects the St. Croix.
The federal and state governments have already approved funding for the bridge, but Congress needs to provide the exemption so the project can go forward. Because the funds need to be spent soon, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton had set a September deadline for the project’s approval, but Klobuchar said there is still time — but not much — for the bridge to go forward.
But opponents have objected to the bridge’s size and cost. Democratic Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison introduced legislation in November capping the cost of the project at $574 million, arguing the remaining funds can be used to shore up other bridge projects throughout the state. They’ve called for a smaller bridge to replace the ailing crossing that exists now. Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said then that state officials oppose that effort.
“It’s no surprise that Sen. Klobuchar’s bill passed the Senate,” McCollum said in a statement Monday night. “But in the House, we need to find a common sense compromise, because a $700 million bridge across the St. Croix River is bad fiscal policy, bad transportation policy and bad environmental policy.”