Sierra Club joins “sensible” bridge chorus

Not exactly a surprise.

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The Sierra Club’s Northstar chapter has signed on with a group that includes St. Paul DFL State Rep. Alice Hausman, an influential voice, who last week said a smaller bridge is smarter.

If you’re late to this melodrama, here’s the Cliff notes version: Western Wisconsin commuters and developers have joined hands with downtown Stillwater business interests to replace the aging, two-lane lift bridge, a choke point given rising traffic volumes that create paralyzing rush hour traffic jams in the otherwise scenic town.

Enter the respective state transportation engineers and voila: To a round of applause, blueprints emerge touting a four-lane, 200 foot high, freeway-style behemoth across the St. Croix River near Oak Park Heights, just down river from Stillwater.

Oh, yes. There’s the matter of cost.

The big bridge is pricey, about $633 million or so. Part of the reason is that about half the cost goes to rebuild several miles of interchanges and roads on either side of the river to accommodate projected travel volumes.

Gosh, this melodrama and blog entry are beginning to rival War and Peace. In length and ennui. Let’s break it up with a nice photo, right about here. See what a nice town Stillwater looks like without traffic jams?

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Fans of the St. Croix as a wild and scenic river and their allies have risen up and shouted, “Too much.”

And that brings us to the “sensible” bridge coalition and their proposal for a three-lane wide span (a switchable middle lane for rush hours) with a fifty foot bridge deck clearance and price tag of about $263 million.

Hausman says the money saved can be used to help replace and repair the hundreds of Minnesota bridges currently rated deficient. And she adds she’s not inclined as a Minnesota taxpayer to subsidize development in western Wisconsin with a massive piece of transportation infrastructure where Minnesota’s share of the cost would be about $363 million.

Whew. Glad I’m working in air conditioning. This is exhausting. But not exhaustive. Careful, even sloppy readers of this massive entry will and should comment on the many twists and turns not mentioned.

What’s next?

A 2:30 p.m. hearing on Thursday, July 28, scheduled before a U. S. Senate subcommittee on a bill that would exempt a new St. Croix River bridge from federal wild and scenic river protection regulations.

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