Stillwater bridge plan takes another step forward
The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources today (Wednesday, Oct. 5) held a hearing to review and amend the legislation which would allow the St. Croix River Crossing to move forward.
On a bi-partisan vote of 30-14, the legislation was amended so that the House version of the bill now matches the language of the U.S. Senate bill. If the bill is eventually approved, the measure would exempt the proposed St. Croix River Crossing from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and pave the way for the start of construction.
The project has been delayed for years, due to environmental challenges from groups opposed to a new span across the St. Croix.
Estimates are the bridge would cost about $574 million to $690 million to build. Minnesota is slated to pitch in between $320 million and $380 million, while Wisconsin's share is estimated at $250 million to $310 million.
With today's action, the congressional bill is now cleared to be considered by the full House in the near future. Proponents of the proposal hope that a vote will come within a few weeks.
"We are very pleased with the results of today's committee action, and we thank Congresswoman (Michele) Bachmann and Congressmen (Ron) Kind, (Chip) Cravaak and (Sean) Duffy for their support and leadership," said John Soderberg, New Richmond, co-chairman of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, a recently-organized group advocating for the construction of the new bridge.
"This is another important step forward for our region," Soderberg said. "We have known for years that the St. Croix River Crossing is the best solution to solve our region's unique environmental, traffic safety, and historic preservation goals. We are hopeful that Congress will agree and let this project finally move forward."
Soderberg said those supporting the construction of a new bridge still can't sit back and wait around for things to happen.
"We need to work even harder now to make sure we don't lose this opportunity to make the new bridge a reality," he said.
He encouraged area residents to contact their elected officials to keep the ball rolling on the proposal.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said congressional action is needed soon to keep the bridge project moving ahead.
"In 1995 plans were presented for this project, but environmental lawsuits and bureaucratic delays have delayed the construction, unfortunately causing the costs to increase," she said in a statement. "Sixteen years later, construction must finally begin. We cannot delay this project further or costs will continue to rise and safety could be compromised as the current bridge continues to age. I urge the House and the Senate to consider their respective bills immediately."
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind also said he's pleased the measure will move forward to the full House soon.
"It's clear that we need a 21st Century infrastructure system that supports 21st Century growth," he said. "The St. Croix River Crossing project fits the bill. I've been encouraging my colleagues to support the project not only for the transportation needs in the area but also because we know investing in infrastructure will bring jobs to the region. The committee action today was helpful and a good first step in getting ground broken and getting this bridge built."
One environmental group released a statement criticizing the action take by the House committee.
The National Parks Conservation Association said the proposed bill would be the first exception granted to the 40-year-old Wild and Scenic Riverway Act and it's not a good approach to take from an environmental standpoint.
"In addition, we oppose this massive bridge because it simply costs too much," said Lynn McClure, Midwest Regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. "The state of Minnesota is currently in a fiscal crisis, so proposing to spend most, if not all of the state's transportation budget on one bridge ... does not make sense. A bridge can be built within the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that is less intrusive on the St. Croix and far less costly.
If a new bridge moves forward, it would replace the 80-year-old lift bridge that has been deemed structurally deficient for many years. If construction were to begin soon, proponents hope the new span can be completed by 2013-14.