What’s the right size for a new Stillwater bridge?

Here’s the view offered recently by a group that wants a smaller span.

stillwater bridge.jpg

They argue this version would be less than half the cost of the bridge proposed by most members of the group involved in years of negotiations aimed at replacing the Stillwater lift bridge – about $263 million versus about $633 million.

Here’s another equation to think about: What’s going to happen to the price of gasoline? How will that affect development in New Richmond and other western Wisconsin communities and the volume of vehicles using the bridge to get to and from the area?

The down-sized bridge idea landed with a thud among the big bridge proponents who view sizable growth and increased traffic volume as inevitable.

Boosters of the smaller span ask, among other questions, why taxpayers should in effect subsidize western Wisconsin development with a big bridge – the “Build it and They Will Come” view of how development happens.

Tell The Cities your view.

  • Doug Seitz

    “The down-sized bridge idea landed with a thud among the big bridge proponents who view sizable growth and increased traffic volume as inevitable.”

    The “big bridge” option would drive development in that area, not serve it. Proof: it isn’t happening now.

    And in the long term gasoline will undoubtedly get more expensive. It’d be a poor bet to think it’ll get cheaper.

  • The $600 to $700 million pricetag of the big bridge would cover all or most of the cost of the 150-mile Northern Lights Express train line to Duluth. A half-mile bridge, or a 150-mile train? Hmm.

    In my estimation, the existing bridge has enough capacity — the eastbound lane on the bridge rarely gets clogged up, for instance. The big constraint is the stoplight at the intersection of Chestnut and Main Street (MN-95), particularly westbound traffic making left turns. Lefts should just be banned there, with an encouragement for people to loop around the block before or after that intersection if they want to go south on MN-95 or east on MN-36, or find some other way to get through town.

    The $263-million design has a roundabout on the west bank, which should allow continuous flow. I personally think that even three lanes is overkill if the western constriction essentially went away.

    Constricting the eastbound flow along MN-36 before reaching downtown is also something that should be considered. Two eastbound lanes of fairly high-speed traffic combine with one northbound lane from MN-95 onto a mile-long stretch of single-lane road on the approach to downtown where there aren’t any turn-offs to speak of. MN-36 should probably go down to one lane at its intersection with 4th Street/Osgood, so people get the hint that the road has less capacity up ahead. Google Maps estimates that going through town from that intersection takes 6 minutes instead of 4 along the highway, but that 6-minute time is probably be much more consistent.

    I’d rather see a replacement bridge built immediately to the north of the existing one, at Myrtle Street. My gut tells me that many people turn at the Chestnut/Main intersection simply because they can see in the distance that Chestnut ends. Myrtle continues straight through town, however, so on a simple psychological level, more people would be happy to drive straight on ahead. A bridge there would be even smaller and cheaper than the $263 million version, and could make use of the existing sandbar that connects to the east side of the Lift Bridge. Ideally, it would be built a few feet higher, so even if it needed a lifting segment, it wouldn’t need to be raised as often.

  • gotdaphunk

    Conventional wisdom on any new road or bridge is to make sure its big enough to handle future needs. The question in this case is whether the bridge is handling the traffic or creating the traffic. No question, build it and they will come. The bridge will pull traffic from the existing 94 bridge and will spur development in that portion of western Wisconsin. Hwy 36, according to the plan, becomes a freeway through Stillwater (look at the DOT plan) and undoubtedly traffic will increase upstream accordingly. Truck traffic, particularly those with destinations in northern Wisconsin will divert from the 94 bridge. Semi traffic, currently very limited on Hwy 36 would increase dramatically.

    What are the desired outcomes and priorities for MINNESOTA residents? The following would seem to be primary objectives that either plan meets:

    Eliminate bridge traffic in downtown Stillwater.

    Replace the existing lift bridge with one high enough for river traffic.

    Increase bridge traffic capacity to meet and exceed current existing regional needs.

    Dramatically improve traffic flow across the river.

    After that the objectives differ as to subjective desirability and as such are not met by one of the plans:

    Be a major interstate route accommodating trucks and commuters at freeway speeds.

    Foster development in western Wisconsin.

    Able to handle projected volume to meet the needs created by the above two objectives.

    Better serve Wisconsin citizens commuting to Minnesota

    Best meeting national requirements for the scenic river designation

    Cost considerations

    Limit noise

    Adversely affect the view of the river and the bluffs

    The first four are met by the larger 4 lane but not the alternative plan. The next three are better served by the alternative plan and the last is debatable, depending on where you are and if you are looking at the river or are on the river.

    Should Minnesota be in the business of developing western Wisconsin or to make it easier for more Wisconsin residents to work in Minnesota? The alternative plan which certainly has drawbacks, not the least being a bridge adversely affecting the river and bluff view from much of downtown Stillwater, does meet the primary needs. Rather than foster Wisconsin development it will restrain it and as a result will keep traffic volumes and truck traffic to existing levels.

  • MnMan

    Bachmann’s Boondoggle mega-bridge was designed more than 20 years ago – when gas was cheap, the economy was strong.

    Times have changed, and so has the need for a St. Croix crossing.

    This “Sensible” solution DOES make sense! Dayton needs to step back from his alliance with the Bachmann Tea Party and immediately direct MnDOT to take a close look – and save taxpayers MILLIONS in needless spending on a oversized bridge to nowhere.

  • JoDaBe

    The right size bridge is NOT what the Right or the Left are supporting.

    The right size bridge is the one in the Middle.

    Build the ‘sensible’ bridge now so we can move on to fixing the other 1,000’s of bridges that are in disrepair across Minnesota (and WI).

  • Brian Major

    Keep it small , narrow and short. It should

    not go diagonally across the river.

  • Jeff Hazen

    On 8/26/09 I wrote the following letter to the Strib, which was published:

    “Re-prioritize the Stillwater Bridge Project

    Let’s see now…. Kevin Giles wrote a well-balanced article on 8/23 about the current Stillwater bridge project. It would cost taxpayers $668.5B “and counting” to put a 4-lane freeway bridge from bluff to bluff to handle about 16,000 vehicles a day. “…more than twice what a forthcoming new bridge over the Mississippi River at Hastings would cost’, a much more heavily-traveled corridor. The Stillwater river crossing solution has not been re-examined in twenty or so years and does not reflect current concerns about urban sprawl, carbon footprint, and national energy security. No multi-modal transportation either; just cars and trucks. Out of step with current and future state and national infrastructure planning and investment. The environmental and recreational impact on this Wild and Scenic river has been given short shrift. And the city of Stillwater would still have a highway running through it with continued traffic snarls.

    Oh, and on 8/25 Jim Fotti told us that MnDOT will be short $50B for the next 20 years to do critical up-grading of the state’s existing roads and bridges!

    Time to get our priorities straight here. Let’s look afresh at what the Stillwater river crossing could be and work out something more to scale in size, dollars and environmental impact. Taxpayers in Minnesota can put $668.5B in state and federal transportation funding to much better use.”

    The voters continue to be ill-served by their elected and appointed public servants.

  • You’re analysis is pretty good, gotdaphunk, but the point about the view and aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder. Mayor Haryski wants a “signature bridge”, feels he deserves it after all the work he’s done lobbying and spending the cities money trying to pull in a 700 million dollar infrastructure project for a relatively few people and small area. Many of us in Stillwater feel a smaller bridge viewed from Stillwater, with an innovative design would be much more attractive, keep the scale of the valley in perspective and actually be good for business in both downtown Stillwater and the HW 36 business district. The current desgin of the mega bridge is to massive and simply plops a freeway over a protected river, that in any way is not attractive. The noise and accompanying sprawl on the Wisconsin side is part and parcel of the view. That development will create more noise and light that will ultimately destroy what is now a relatively peaceful valley, especially when the sun goes down. Also, by weakening the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act the possiblity of more intrusions on the bluff and valley will in all probability impact the scenic beauty of the St. Croix around Stillwater. To maintain the mega bridge is more compatable with the valley from a scenic perspective is short sighted and simply wrong.

  • gotdaphunk

    Response to Mr. Pappas. You are correct that my comments on the alternative bridge plan adversely affecting the view from downtown Stillwater are subjective. When it comes to looking at scenic protected rivers I prefer river over bridge. Let’s be honest here. If neither bridge was needed and money was no object, would you advocate building the alternative bridge strictly to improve the river view? I won’t answer for you, but in my mind the only option that somehow does not impact the river negatively is no bridge at all. Some would agree with that option, but most feel some sort of bridge is needed. While I tried to at least acknowledge motives for the larger bridge, my questions and comments I think conveyed my view that the larger bridge is a bad choice for a variety of reasons. I must have failed at that as you go on to argue as if I was a big bridge booster. In fact I agree with everything you say, including your opinion that the alternative design would be a more attractive option than the mega-bridge. But I still maintain that the diagonal alternative option, given all its advantages, still degrades the river view from Stillwater and in a way different from the big bridge. Both in my view lessen the river experience, but in different ways and while the alternative plan overall is by far the “least worst”, it does come with some tradeoffs.