U.S. House debates St. Croix bridge bill

WASHINGTON – The proposed new bridge over the St. Croix River near Stillwater moved one step closer to a vote in the U.S. House.

Saying it was “a once in a lifetime magic moment,” the bill’s chief House sponsor, Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann urged her colleagues to support the measure.

Congressional action is needed because the St. Croix River is protected by the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. While there is near-unanimous support that the Stillwater lift bridge is old and in need of replacement, the issue pits DFL Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, who oppose the nearly $700 million freeway-style bridge under design, against Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, as well as Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.

“This is not a good use of taxpayer money,” said Ellison during the debate. “I find it absolutely shocking that all of these fiscal conservatives lining up to throw money at this overly-expensive, overly-hyped mega-bridge.”

Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia noted that the legislation’s language resembles an earmark, which House Republicans have prohibited.

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, by golly, it’s probably a duck!” said Rahall.

Supporters said the bridge was urgently needed for both traffic and safety reasons and argued additional delays would only add costs to the project.

Bachmann said the project’s high cost was due to years of litigation and accused McCollum of personally orchestrating the opposition.

“The responsibility for the increased costs of building this bridge rests squarely on the shoulders of Representative McCollum and on her compatriots who have fought for decades to kill the building of this bridge,” said Bachmann.

Noting the strong support the project has from the political establishments on both sides of the St. Croix River, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Sean Duffy said it was a rare chance for a frequently-divided House to pass bipartisan legislation.

“You have progressives and conservatives in this chamber who have all come out and supported this bill. You have Vikings and Packers supporting this bill,” said Duffy. “This is a remarkable day.”

The House will vote Thursday morning on the bill, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass due to special rules used to bring the bill to the House floor quickly.