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House eyes Stillwater bridge vote (UPDATE)

A rendering shows the proposed replacement for the Stillwater Bridge spanning the St. Croix River between Houlton, Wis., and Stillwater, Minn. (Rendering courtesy of MnDOT)

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Legislation on building a St. Croix River bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin could get long-awaited consideration in the U.S. House this week.

Republican leaders placed the bill on the legislative calendar Monday evening. The House could take it up as soon as Wednesday.

“This project has gone unfinished for far too long,” according to a statement attributed to Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn. “I am confident now, 20 years after plans were drawn for the St. Croix River Crossing Project, we will finally see it brought to a successful resolution.”

The bi-partisan bill, which is co-sponsored by Bachmann, Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., Sean Duffy, R-Wis., and Chip Cravaack, D-Minn., would exempt the proposed $700 million, four-lane bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

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.

Gov. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., warned Bachmann last week that he would direct state spending for the bridge elsewhere if it’s not taken up by March 15. Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., publicly supported Dayton’s move. In a statement, Walker urged the House to help the project clear its environmental hurdle before adjourning March 8.

Rep. Betty McCollum, who stands to inherit the bridge in redesigned congressional districts, sent correspondence to House colleagues Monday night, urging them to reject the legislation. Minnesota Public Radio News said McCollum called the bridge a “monument to government waste.”

The U.S. Senate already has passed its version of the bill last month. If the House approves the bill, the legislation could arrive on President Obama’s desk before the end of the week.

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.

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