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President's signature keeps Stillwater bridge construction on course

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news River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Wednesday, March 14, was a big day in the progress toward an eventual new bridge over the St. Croix River.

That day President Barack Obama officially signed into law legislation to authorize the St. Croix River Crossing Project. The bill had received wide bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

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"President Obama's signature today is a historic step toward making the St. Croix River Valley a better place to live, work and visit," said John Soderberg, co-chairman of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing. "It allows Minnesota and Wisconsin to again move the St. Croix River Crossing project forward, addressing a solution to the 80-year-old Stillwater lift bridge. It is a national recognition of the consensus achieved by decades of hard work by St. Croix River Valley residents."

Soderberg thanked the many politicians and individuals who worked hard to make the bridge a reality. He pointed to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Senator Amy Klobuchar and her co-authors Senators Ron Johnson, Al Franken, and Herb Kohl, and Representatives Michele Bachmann, Ron Kind, and Sean Duffy for their hard work on behalf of their constituents in the St. Croix River Valley.

"Their unwavering support and team effort for our region helped us secure the overwhelming backing of Congress and the Obama Administration," he said.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, called the bill's signing a victory for people on both sides of the river.

Klobuchar said the current Stillwater lift bridge has aged and closings for structural and vehicle collision repairs and maintenance inspections have increased. In addition, she said. The bridge's unique function as a lift bridge, which lifts frequently to allow boats to travel the St. Croix River, is a source of severe traffic congestion.

"After 30 years of debate and delay, we finally got it done," said Klobuchar. "This is a victory for the residents and businesses along the St. Croix River Valley who have waited long enough for a safe, new bridge."

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wisconsin, issued a statement following the signing.

"Today we celebrate an important victory," said Kind. "After decades of work and the dedication of local stakeholders, agencies, and private entities, we can finally get to work constructing the much needed St. Croix River Crossing Project. Not only will the new bridge address local safety and transportation concerns but it will create thousands of jobs in the short-term and foster continued economic development in a very dynamic and fast growing region. I'm proud that my colleagues and I were able to come together to see this important project through. The people of the St. Croix River Valley will finally get the bridge they need and deserve."

Kind said the project is expected to great upwards of 6,000 new jobs in the area.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, said she was pleased to hear the news.

"I commend the president for signing this important piece of legislation," she said. "I have personally been involved with the St. Croix River Crossing project proposal for decades, including while I was a member of the Minnesota State Senate. It finally took Congressional action to allow this project to proceed because of years of frivolous lawsuits and bureaucratic holdups, but I'm pleased we could deliver. This legislation does not appropriate a dime; rather it allows a project supported by both states' Departments of Transportation and the majority of local residents to proceed."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said the bill's signing marked a "great day for Wisconsin."

"The St. Croix River Crossing is a great example of what happens when everyone puts their differences aside, focuses on the needed end result and works together to successfully get something done," he said. "And Wisconsin is better off for it.  We can now begin the process of constructing this bridge, a project that will bring thousands of jobs to our region and provide a safer route between Minnesota and Wisconsin."

Now the process to begin construction of the span begins. The Minnesota DOT expects to begin foundation load testing in the coming weeks. A project team has been announced, led by Jon Chiglo, the engineer who managed the successful completion of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis in 2007.

The project cost estimate is between $571 and $676 million. The most recent projection puts the cost at $626 million. Minnesota's share will be in the range of $315 million and $371 million. Wisconsin's share is estimated at between $256 million and $305 million.

Once the bridge construction begins, which will likely be in early 2014, it will take three years to complete.

The major project goals include: restoring the Stillwater lift bridge and convert its use to a bicycle/pedestrian crossing; building a new bridge to increase traffic capacity between Minnesota and Wisconsin; constructing roadway approaches on both sides of the river; and protecting historic, cultural and environmental features along the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

"This project is complex and calls for collaboration among many organizations and individuals," said MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel. "We intend to achieve nothing less than a legacy of sound construction, responsible stewardship of the St. Croix River Valley's resources and successful community participation."

Interested individuals can stay informed about the project by visiting www.mndot.gov/stcroixcrossing or the St. Croix Crossing Facebook page.

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Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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