Minneapolis (AP) — A plan to build a bridge over the St. Croix River between Wisconsin and Minnesota took a step forward after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill clearing the way for the new span.
The bill must pass the House of Representatives to be able to be signed into law.
“This is a milestone for the St. Croix bridge project,” according to a news release attributed to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who led efforts in the Senate to pass the bill. “The residents and businesses in Stillwater and along the St. Croix River Valley deserve a safe, more efficient alternative to the current 80 year-old lift bridge, which is outdated for the needs of the region.”
The bi-partisan bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., would exempt the proposed $700 million, four-lane bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
“Constructing the St. Croix bridge is important for both economic activity in western Wisconsin and the drivers that use the bridge,” according to a news release attributed to Johnson. “The people of Wisconsin and Minnesota have waited far too long for this replacement.”
The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing lauded the move in a statement, calling it “an historic step forward.”
Wisconsin is responsible for half of the bridge cost, and then each state pays for its own approach. Wisconsin’s portion of the project is about $300 million.
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said a compromise would be needed in the House, because she said a bridge that size was “bad fiscal policy, bad transportation policy and bad environmental policy.”
The legislation includes a package of mitigation efforts to protect the St. Croix River that were developed with the Department of Transportation and National Park Service. The mitigation measures were agreed to in 2006 by the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. The mitigation plan would help promote scenic and recreational values of the St. Croix River by eliminating existing man-made structures, protecting river bluff lands, restoring park land and ensuring public boat access.
The current St. Croix River crossing is at the Stillwater Lift Bridge, which was built in 1931, and connects Houlton, Wis., and Stillwater, Minn. As the bridge has aged, closings for structural and vehicle collision repairs and maintenance inspections have increased. Traffic on the two-lane span often spills into downtown Stillwater, resulting in miles-long traffic tie-ups. According to the most recent traffic counts, from 2006, the bridge carries more than 18,000 vehicles a day.