WASHINGTON — Congress must pass a bill authorizing the construction of a new bridge over the St. Croix River in Stillwater before March 15 or the state will not be able to provide funding for the project, Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday.
Dayton wrote U.S. Rep Michele Bachmann, who introduced legislation authorizing the new bridge, warning her that the House must approve the project in less than a month if it is to happen. Dayton also said the time it would take to research an alternate design to the $700 million planned bridge would delay construction by up to a decade, a blow to Democrats Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, who oppose the bridge project and have called for a smaller, cheaper replacement.
Funding for the bridge project has already been approved, but the state only has a few years to use the funds before they expire. Dayton had previously set a fall deadline for congressional approval of the plan, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation since extended that deadline to March 15, at which time the state would repurpose the funding to other transit project, Dayton said.
“Everyone must understand, however, that if the March 15th deadline cannot be met and the federal and state monies are reallocated to other Minnesota transportation projects, there will no longer be sufficient funding available to undertake the St. Croix River Crossing Project in the foreseeable future,” he said in his letter.
Bachmann said she’s been in contact with House leadership and members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who have had their hands full trying to push a controversial transportation bill through Congress. She said this is the “magic moment” for the bridge project.
“I have kept my eyes focused like a laser beam on building this Stillwater bridge and I think now is the time, more than ever, to get this done,” she said Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the St. Croix bridge project in January. The $700 million four-lane bridge would replace an aging crossing in Stillwater. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced the Senate’s version of the bill, which exempts the bridge project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which protects the St. Croix River. The bill has received bipartisan backing from an unlikely coalition of lawmakers: Democrats like Dayton, Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken and Republicans like Bachmann and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“We know that the strong bistate and bipartisan support for this project will help us meet Dayton’s deadline of March 15 and will allow the St. Croix River Valley to celebrate an important victory and avoid another generation of gridlock, pollution, and public safety risks,” Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said in a statement.
McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat who has opposed the bridge project as too large and costly, said in a statement that she’s “doubtful” the House would approve the project. Despite Dayton’s warning that the environmental and design research associated with pursuing a smaller and more cost-effective bridge would significantly delay the project, McCollum said she would keep pushing that option.
“I will continue working for a more fiscally-responsible, appropriately-scaled replacement bridge for Stillwater,” said McCollum, whose new congressional district will contain Stillwater starting with this November’s election. “The Governor’s letter is a signal that it is time to take Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood up on his offer of a working group and come to the table to reach a compromise.”
Jim Erkel, of the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership, which opposes the $700 million bridge, said a less expensive bridge will free up money to put construction workers to work immediately on other projects throughout the state. He questioned Dayton’s assertion that an environmental impact study would delay the project as much as the governor said it would.
“The Governor’s statement that it will take 10 years to build a fiscally and environmentally responsible alternative to the Boondoggle Bridge is a scare tactic intended to rush Congress into gutting the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” he said.