Stillwater City Council Member Micky Cook and Oak Park Heights Mayor David Beaudet joined the Fourth-District Congresswoman during the discussion.
McCollum does not dispute the need to replace Stillwater’s Historic Lift Bridge, .
“I really thought MnDOT had to come forward and figure out a win-win,” McCollum said. “A win for Wisconsin. A win for Minnesota. A win for the environment. And a win for this community.”
But she says the “extra-dosed” proposal doesn’t do that.
McCollum said her “worst nightmare” was realized when the current proposal was amended to become, by statute, a 65-mph crossing that she says will cost more than $700 million when all is said and done.
MnDOT says the project will cost between $574-690 million.
”A win-win is building the right-sized bridge and taking the rest of the money to repair the state’s other deficient bridges,” McCollum said.
There are , she said, 53 of which are in Minnesota's Fourth Congressional District.
As a former member of the Minnesota House and a current member of the U.S. Congress on the Appropriations Committee, McCollum said if all of the eggs go in one basket to build the St. Croix River Crossing, the East Metro won’t be able to afford the infrastructure work that will need to be done on Highway 36, while completing the infrastructure work about 5 miles away on Interstate 94.
“It will become a choice,” she said. “And that choice might be that heavy development happens in western Wisconsin and 36—which is already at capacity—becomes a huge bottleneck and Interstate 94 doesn’t get fixed, either. All of the money can go to the West Metro.”
Pass, Die or Hung Up in Litigation
“It passed out of the Senate on a voice vote,” McCollum said. “They didn’t discuss it for a second. It did not pass out of , but it passed out of the Senate floor without a discussion.”
From there, the bill will likely go on the suspension calendar, McCollum said, which means it can’t be amended and there would be 20 minutes of discussion—10 minutes for each side—before the vote.
To pass out of the suspension calendar, the vote needs to be higher than a 50-percent threshold.
“I think it will likely pass,” McCollum said of Bachmann's bill. “But, I don’t have a crystal ball.”
It is also possible that the river crossing bill wouldn’t come up this session, could die on suspension, or pass and end up in litigation with some of the issues the Oak Park Heights City Council has alluded to with the challenges and concerns they face with utility relocation, McCollum said.
‘The Bridge Might Hit a Snag’
Ultimately, the St. Croix River Crossing would connect Oak Park Heights with Houlton, Wis., and there are some issues that need to be resolved to that end.
The on Tuesday .
“We are very much concerned about the utility relocation money that was redirected someplace unknown in the process of amending this project,” Oak Park Heights Mayor David Beaudet said. “We’re very concerned because it is the single biggest cost-effect to the city.”
The $3.66 million earmark for utility location was part of discussions stemming back to 2005.
The Oak Park Heights resolution is two fold. It asks federal officials to explain where the money is; and MnDOT, as the project’s fiscal agent, to confirm that the funds are available.
Oak Park Heights has not granted, or even been approached to grant, municipal consent for the current river crossing project, Beaudet said. The consent MnDOT talks of is that from a 1995 consent that was signed for a project they can’t build because it violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
In an interview last week with Oak Park Heights City Council Member Mary McComber, she said she expects that Sen. Klobuchar will give the city an explanation of what the offset means.
Utility relocation along Highway 36 is estimated to cost about $20 million, according to the Oak Park Heights resolution. The project could increase the city’s property tax an extra $400-500 a year for the next 10 years.
When looking at all the scenarios, “the bridge might hit a snag,” McCollum said. “If that happens it’s important for us to stand up with one strong voice and say let’s do it with fiscal responsibility; let’s do it with environmental responsibly; and let’s just do it. It’s time to put this aside, so the community can focus on other things.”
A Thousand Other Bridges
McCollum said the argument that building a less expensive alternative to the current bridge would take at least 10 years is “poppycock.”
All riverbeds are different, McCollum said, but MnDOT did the Lafayette Bridge for less than $250 million and it services $80,000 cars every day.
“We can do better,” she said. “We can get a better bang for our buck.”
“Another big myth,” McCollum said, is that if the current proposal doesn’t pass, the federal government will lose the money and the project will go away.
“That is absolutely not true,” she said. “The money is there. It could be put toward other projects if we reduce the size and the scope of this bridge.”
The Lift Bridge needs to be replaced, McCollum said. But so do a thousand other bridges across the state.
“That’s a fact. It is no more dangerous than those thousand other bridges,” she said. “If this is going to be our criteria, then we need to replace every one of those bridges as soon as possible.”