Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Senate passes St. Croix bridge bill

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.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 01/24/2012 - 09:48 am.

    “The four-lane bridge project has been held up by bureaucratic red tape for more than 15 years …. {T]he bill that passed Monday night would exempt the project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.” Translation: Applying the law = “bureaucratic red tape.” Good one, Mr. Henry. My objection doesn’t rest principally on the visual impact, it rests on the fact that a new bridge is far, far down on the list of Minnesota priorities. Close the lift bridge and you’ve addressed Stillwater’s and Minnesota’s concerns. Let the folks in Polk and Pierce Counties drive 10 extra miles if they want to get to Stillwater. Spend the $1B on hundreds of failing bridges around the state that collectively carry vastly more traffic.

  2. Submitted by Tom Clark on 01/24/2012 - 10:51 am.

    McCollum is either sadly misinformed about the cost and adequacy of the so-called “sensible bridge” alternative that was already rejected back in 2005, or she’s pandering for votes and dollars. I’m betting on the latter, since she and her staff have surely had time to review all the relevant documents. The fact that the new bridge passed unanimously in the Senate and has already passed in a House transportation committee does not jive with claims about the new St. Croix bridge being as bad as McCollum makes it out to be.

  3. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 01/24/2012 - 01:25 pm.

    Why does this project require an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act? That’s a big red flag.

  4. Submitted by Tom Clark on 01/24/2012 - 01:50 pm.

    Terry, it has come down to needing an act of Congress because the National Park Service and MnDoT fundamentally disagree about where the new bridge should be. The situation is also complicated by the fact that the NPS changed its mind about the new bridge when it rejected a 1996 plan and then accepted a 2005 plan that shared identical locations, but when asked by a judge what the basis was for their change of mind they couldn’t show the judge they weren’t being arbitrary and capricious. So now the NPS can’t be a reliable partner in the process and since the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act requires the participation of the NPS, Congress has had to step in to exempt the new bridge from the Act.

Leave a Reply