Bridge coalition buoyed by recent progress
It's been a year since the formation of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, a non-profit group advocating for a new bridge at Stillwater, Minn.
Much has been accomplished over the past 12 months, said Coalition Co-Chairman John Soderberg, New Richmond, but more work remains before bridge backers can claim victory in the lengthy political battle.
"It may not be going as fast as some people would like, but it's being done the right way," Soderberg said. "We're being very careful and vigilant."
Soderberg, who is in his 15th year of bridge advocacy, said a new span is closer to reality than it ever was before.
Most recently, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill that would provide an exception to the Wild & Scenic Riverway Act that would allow for a new bridge to be built across the protected St. Croix River. The Congressional proposal does not change the federal act, it just allows the one specific project to proceed, Soderberg explained.
"Everyone knows we need a new bridge, and this allows for that," he said.
Sometime in the next month or so, Soderberg said, the U.S. House of Representatives will consider the same bill.
"We have reason to believe that we have enough support to get it passed," he said.
The bill would then go to President Barack Obama for his signature.
While some have criticized the current bridge plan due to its estimated cost, Soderberg said the preferred design was one developed over many years by a large stakeholder's group. The plan calls for a $292 million bridge, with an additional $340 million in expenditures for historic preservation efforts, environmental mitigation and connecting roadway work.
"Some people have said it's a $700 million bridge," Soderberg said. "It's not. It's a $292 million bridge with additional work on either side of the river."
Soderberg said he's convinced the current plan is the best and most cost effective option for the new bridge.
As the bridge backers anticipate the final pieces for a new bridge to fall into place soon, Soderberg said he doesn't expect the coalition to dissolve any time soon. He said the group likely will remain active at least until actual construction of the bridge begins.
"You just don't know what can happen down the line," he said. "We won't rest until the shovels actually go in the soil."