House passes St. Croix bridge bill

The House of Representatives Thursday passed an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act allowing for construction of a new $690 million bridge over the St. Croix River to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge. The vote was 339-80.

The bill was sponsored by GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann and DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar. It had bipartisan support in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Two House Democrats from Minnesota, 4th District Rep. Betty McCollum and 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison, opposed the bridge project calling it too big and too expensive.

The Senate passed the bill in January. Bachmann said she was looking forward to President Obama signing the bill so construction can begin.

“The St. Croix River Crossing Project is an incredible project that has incredible, bipartisan support. It is not very often that we get all four senators from Minnesota and Wisconsin, the governors from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a diverse group of representatives on board with the same issue,” Bachmann said.

Klobuchar said Obama would sign the bill.

“After 30 years of debate and delay, we finally got it done,” said Klobuchar. “Today is a victory for the residents and businesses along the St. Croix River Valley who have waited long enough for a safe, new bridge. This effort is an example of what can get done when people put politics aside and do what is best for our state. I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the House and Senate as well as Gov. Dayton who helped get this project over the finish line.”

Ellison also reacted:

“I have consistently supported replacing the Stillwater Lift Bridge. However, the design the House of Representatives authorized today is both oversized and overpriced. Many bridges in our state need repair. Limited transportation funds should be used responsibly for projects throughout the state. For example, the Interstate 35W Bridge, which tragically fell into the Mississippi River four years ago, cost $234 million to rebuild in its entirety and carries 140,000 vehicles daily. By contrast, the St. Croix Bridge is expected to cost $700 million and carry 18,000 vehicles a day.

“Minnesota has 1,400 neglected bridges statewide that need repair, including in the Fifth Congressional District. A right-sized St. Croix bridge would allow other communities to repair the bridges they need, creating good Minnesota jobs and preserving our state’s scenic river areas. By exempting the bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Congress is also setting a precedent that would justify building bridges over any of the country’s Wild and Scenic Rivers. I join Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and local and national environmental organizations in opposing this bill.

“I will continue to work for smart investments in Minnesota’s roads and bridges that create good jobs for our state.”

Gov. Mark Dayton also issued a statement.

“I am delighted to see this important project move forward; this new bridge is urgently needed. The project will put thousands of people in the construction industry to work. “I am very grateful to the House Leadership for expediting the bill. Thank you to Congresswoman Bachmann, Senator Klobuchar, Governor Walker of Wisconsin Stillwater Mayor Harycki, and all of our partners on this project.”

Rep. Betty McCollum’s reaction:

“Every policy debate has two sides and I worked hard to reflect the voices of Minnesotans in the 4th District, as well as those Stillwater and Oak Park Heights residents who are deeply concerned about this mega-bridge project.

“Congress’ passage of this $700 million bridge bill doesn’t diminish its excessive cost, size, negative effect on Highway 36 traffic congestion, or its adverse impact on the St. Croix River.

“Supporters of this legislation, including Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Gov. Dayton, assume responsibility for protecting communities along Highway 36 from crippling traffic congestion and the families and businesses of Oak Park Heights from property tax increases – the direct consequences of the project they so strongly championed.

“I want to thank my friend and Minnesota colleague, Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-05) for his eloquence on the floor of the House in opposition to S. 1134. I share Congressman Ellison’s concern that replacing one bridge at a cost of $700 million to the exclusion of more than 1,100 other structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota places too many communities and motorists at risk. I am committed to working with Rep. Ellison, Gov. Dayton and all Minnesota members of Congress and state legislators to repair or replace these substandard bridges.”