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In the coming weeks, the House will consider S. 1134, the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act. This legislation, which passed the Senate by voice vote and does not spend one cent of new federal money, is absolutely necessary to address a major transportation need and safety concern affecting the residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The proposed project is not a city-to-city bridge but a regional connection of transportation systems that meets the current and future needs of the citizens and communities it serves.
Today, the region is served by a 1931 lift bridge that is structurally deficient, functionally obsolete and fracture-critical. Traffic stalls are a regular occurrence, closures are expected because of flooding each spring and the safety rating of the bridge is an astounding 32.8 on a scale of 100, warranting several structural safety concerns.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates that, congestion-free, the lift bridge can accommodate 11,200 vehicles a day. Because of a growing region in which the population has exploded during the past decade, we’re pushing 18,800 a day right now. By 2030, an estimated 48,000 vehicles per day would need to be driving over the bridge.
If a new bridge is not constructed, more than 27,000 vehicles will have to find an alternate route between the states, putting increased strain on highways such as the federally funded Interstate 95 corridor, which is already at full capacity during peak hours. On top of its inability to handle current traffic, crash rates in some segments of the approach are 50 percent to 90 percent higher than the statewide averages. If no bridge is built, already-lengthy traffic wait time is expected to double.
The existing bridge cannot be removed or replaced because of its placement on the National Registry of Historic Places, so a new bridge must be built — and soon.
The existing bridge has been a concern for almost 40 years, and delays have gone on long enough.
In order to resolve the complex environmental, cultural and transportation issues surrounding the project, a decade ago, the Udall Foundation’s U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution put together a group of 27 local, state and federal stakeholders representing a wide range of interests so that all could make their voices heard. In 2006, the institute’s case report concluded: “After a five year effort, the stakeholders were able to resolve the contentious and long-standing dispute over the St. Croix River Crossing.”
This plan would build a new bridge that would have the least effects on environmental and cultural resources, convert the lift bridge into a pedestrian/bicycle bridge and preserve the integrity of the area’s scenic and recreational value. The St. Croix River Crossing Project includes a new $292 million bridge, which costs less per square foot than the Interstate 35W bridge replacement outside of the Twin Cities.
In order to complete this project, the National Park Service concluded that Congress would need to authorize the new bridge through an exception to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Senate-passed bill does this without spending any new federal money. Wisconsin and Minnesota have already set aside funding for this project and have guaranteed the support to see it through.