WASHINGTON – Long-delayed legislation to authorize a new, highway-style bridge to take the place of an aging river crossing in Stillwater could receive a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as Wednesday.
House Republican leaders placed the bill on the legislative calendar Monday evening, just days after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton told bill sponsor Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann the House had until March 15 to pass the bridge bill, or he would have to redirect Minnesota’s state funding.
“My constituents are eager for a new crossing to be built,” said Bachmann in a statement. “This project has gone unfinished for far too long.”
Ironically for Bachmann, the congressional district she represents will no longer include Stillwater when voters go to the polls in November. Instead, the bridge’s biggest opponent, DFL Rep. Betty McCollum, will represent the area.
An identical version the bill, which exempts the planned bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protecting the St. Croix, was approved by the Senate last month. That means the legislation could arrive on President Obama’s desk for signature before the end of the week if the House gives its approval.
Republican leaders appear confident the measure will pass: they’re considering it under special rules requiring a two-thirds majority for passage that are traditionally reserved for non-controversial legislation. Still, opposition from McCollum has slowed the process.
While McCollum initially cast her opposition to a new bridge in terms of the impact on traffic in the region and concerns about setting a precedent for bypassing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, lately she’s been criticizing the project’s nearly $700 million price tag in an effort to woo fiscal conservatives.
In a letter sent to House colleagues Monday night urging them to vote no on the bill, McCollum called the bridge “a monument to government waste.” Her office is also circulating a letter written by former Vice President Walter Mondale, who sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act when he served in the Senate, in which he calls the proposed bridge “a profound mistake.”