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Legislators unite to oppose Stillwater bridge plan

With Congress poised to vote soon on a proposed bridge to be built over the St. Croix river near Stillwater, Minn., 30 state legislators from Minnesota and Wisconsin sent a letter to their respective congressional delegations urging they vote no.

A measure to allow for construction of the bridge was set to be considered in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

In the letter, legislators from both sides of the St. Croix said they were "united in our concerns that the current design of the bridge is far too expensive, particularly in light of much more cost-effective alternatives."

"This is an issue on which we are united," said Minnesota State Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL - Minneapolis). "Both Minnesota and Wisconsin taxpayers will not be well served by a $700 million bridge that diverts already limited resources for critical bridge repairs and road safety projects."

Said Senator Scott Dibble (Minneapolis), "It is particularly striking when one considers that no new net economic development would occur if this massive bridge were to be built. On the contrary, this bridge would divert jobs and revitalization investments anticipated for the Twin Cities metropolitan area."

In Minnesota, more than $380 million dollars would be taken away from already scheduled transportation projects if the Stillwater Bridge moves forward. In Wisconsin, general fund resources would be used, that would otherwise go towards education, health care and other priorities, legislators claim.

The Wisconsin legislators signing the letter included Hulsey, State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (Appleton), State Rep. Terese Berceau (Madison), State Rep. Chris Danou (Trempealeau), State Rep. Nick Milroy (South Range), State Rep. Kelda Roys (Madison) and State Rep. Chris Taylor (Madison).

"My constituents and Wisconsin taxpayers are more concerned about repairing the bridges in their neighborhood rather than building a gold-plated bridge to Minnesota six miles north of an eight-lane bridge that already exists," said Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, an Assembly Natural Resources Committee member and co-author of the letter.

Wisconsin state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, said she was disappointed in the letter.

"It is important to note that most of those Wisconsin legislators signing the letter represent districts hundreds of miles from western Wisconsin," said Harsdorf. "Those of us that have long supported a new bridge have worked to build support with stakeholders and elected officials at all levels of government and from both parties."

The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing also issued a statement.

"We stand with the governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin, our four U.S. Senators, our four U.S. Representatives, our St. Croix Valley state legislators, and our two counties, all in support of the St. Croix River Crossing," said John Soderberg, co-chairman of the coalition. "After more than 25 years of research, discussion and debate, we agree with them that the St. Croix River Crossing is the best option for our communities and our states. We're proud that our elected leaders are working together on a bipartisan basis to resolve our ongoing transportation safety problem."

The St. Croix River Crossing was developed through an extensive, three-year, mediated community review process that considered dozens of different crossing designs, plans and locations, the coalition stated.

"Multiple state and federal regulatory agencies, local governments, environmental organizations, historic preservation organizations, and community members worked together to design the overall project," Soderberg said. "These stakeholders developed the plan to carefully balance the region's traffic safety, environmental protection, and historic preservation goals."

Soderberg said claims made by interest groups that a less expensive bridge design is available are untrue.

"Analysis by the Minnesota Department of Transportation proves that their alternative has major disqualifying flaws, could take as many as 10 years to develop, and is not guaranteed to be workable or legal," he said.

The group's statement claimed that, "over its life, this project will save citizens time, fuel, and property tax dollars which are now used to repair wear and tear on local streets that handle regional traffic. At a cost of $633 million, split between the two states, the project is a good value for taxpayers. Analysis by the Minnesota Department of Transportation indicates a positive cost/benefit ratio of 1.53. The new crossing will reduce carbon monoxide pollution caused by idling vehicles and reduce phosphorous emissions into the St. Croix River by 20 percent."