WASHINGTON – Supporters of a new bridge over the St. Croix River took their case directly to the White House last week, discussing the matter with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
According to a press release from the Coalition for a St. Croix River Crossing, Oak Park Heights council member Mary McComber was in Washington for an event sponsored by the National League of Cities when she raised the question with both officials.
“Secretary LaHood and Bill Daley both said that the St. Croix River Crossing is a top priority for President Obama, and he is committed to moving the project forward,” said McComber.
Replacing aging bridges and other infrastructure is a centerpiece of the White House’s strategy to combat unemployment. Yesterday, President Obama spoke before the Key Bridge in Washington, DC about his proposals and the Senate will vote later today on a bill put forward by DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar to authorize an additional $50 billion in infrastructure spending. That measure, financed by a tax on millionaires, will likely fail due a Republican filibuster.
However, the primary bottleneck for authorizing a replacement span to the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge lies with Congress, not the Executive Branch. Bills in the U.S. House and Senate have been slowly winding through both chambers all year. After first establishing a Sept. 30 deadline for Congress to act before transferring funds for a replacement bridge to other projects, Gov. Dayton has pushed the date back to the end of the year due to the slow legislative pace in Washington.
Last month, the Congressional Budget Office found that building a new bridge will add $8 million to the deficit – mostly due to funds initially earmarked for the bridge in the 2005 highway bill. Due to congressional rules, any bill authorizing a new bridge will have to either cut $8 million in spending elsewhere or raise revenues by a corresponding amount.
Congressional sources say offsetting spending cuts are the most likely route and that leaders in both chambers are identifying reductions that could be paired with the authorizing legislation.