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McCollum Leads Discussion about the St. Croix River Crossing Project

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) says the argument that it would take another decade to build a smaller, more "fiscally responsible" alternative to the St. Croix River Crossing Project is “poppycock.”

Rep. Betty McCollum spoke to a group of about 100 Stillwater residents Saturday morning at  about her opposition to the "extra-dosed" four-lane St. Croix River Crossing Project.

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

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s St. Croix River Crossing Authorization Act unanimously and shares identical language with Rep. Michele Bachmann’s bill that is awaiting a congressional vote.

“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.”

Alex Mundy February 07, 2012 at 06:20 PM
The piece is disingenuious and misleading on every level. First of all, the cost of the actual bridge (and the cost of ANY appropriately sized bridge that would span the width of the St. Croix at a height that causes the least environmental impact) is in the ballpark of $290 - $295 million -- NOT $700 million. The comparison to the 35W bridge is apples and oranges. The $260 million spent on the 35W bridge was the cost of the bridge. The infrastructure on either side of that bridge was already there and there were no additional tens of millions spent on mitigation efforts or caused by delays due to lawsuits by the Sierra Club. It's also blatantly misleading to portray the bridge as connecting a small town (Stillwater) with a tiny town (Houlton) when the fact is that the bridge is an interstate bridge within the biggest northern major metro area between Chicago and Seattle. In the article, McCollum and Alexander say, "We agree with federal, state and local leaders who believe a new bridge across the St. Croix is needed." Okay, so where's your plan? How much will your bridge cost and when will it be done? Will the added costs of further delays somehow not apply to your bridge? Will the necessary infrastructure and mitigation costs be 50 percent less? 25 percent less? It's easy to get on your high horse and label it a boondoggle. Coming up with a realistic solution is a lot tougher.
Old Mort February 07, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Bob and Joe: The cost of the bridge not counting highway 36 upgrades has been estimated to be in the $700,000,000 range, and the redoing of Highway 36 is estimated at $200,000,000. I think your estimate of a little less than $300,000,000 is a pipe dream. The Senate also passed the Bridge to nowhere in Alaska because not enough people opposed it. Thank God we have Congresswoman McCollum stepping in for us, and yes, I think she is smarter than Bachmann, Franken Klocubar all put together! I think this huge bridge would be a great idea for those Wisconsin commuters to have a faster easier way to get over to Minnesota a take our jobs don't you? And it will get worse! If the bridge is built it will be kinda like BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME..I would rather see them drive 5 miles south and go across at 94.
joe February 07, 2012 at 07:18 PM
I agree with Bob. He sounds smarter that Martin. Martin, does your cost also include upgrades to HWY 36 in Roseville like WP's? Your cost calculations are ridiculous and so is the idea of a lower cost bridge that would meet the transportation needs. Bob said it well. Look at the numbers instead of arguing your emotions. There is no cheaper alternative. Here's an idea for all of the opponents. If you don't want a new bridge just be honest and say so. Quit faking that you are for a bridge if it can be done for less, then citing fake cost calculations. Your real desire is to have no new bridge and live with the congestion and pollution of the status quo, so just be honest about it.
Alex Mundy February 07, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Martin, you're just plain wrong. There are numerous sources, including the Star Tribune and MNDOT (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/stcroix/pdfs/status/CHAP%20152TotalProjCostEstimateFeb2011.pdf) that put the cost of the actual bridge itself at $292.1 million. Of the project total -- $633,400,000 -- Minnesota's potential share is $320 - 380 million -- NOT $700 million. So let's agree to stop talking about feelings and stick to the facts. The only way it's going to cost Minnesotans $700 million is if McCollum and the "do nothing" crowd keep interfering, delaying the project even more and increasing costs.
Susan February 07, 2012 at 09:42 PM
As per your own source, Bob, the total project is estimated to cost over $600 million, and if we are honest, this will run over budget - the work that will have to be done on Hwy 36 for this project, and to upgrade to handle the additional traffic that MNDOT expects this bridge to bring, will be much higher than they have estimated here. It does not matter what the "span" of the bridge costs, the total cost of the project is exceedingly high, for the number of people it will serve.
Alex Mundy February 07, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Okay, let's be honest, starting with McCollum's and Alexander's dishonest comparison of the cost 35W replacement bridge to the cost of the entire St. Croix River crossing project. The 35W bridge is 1900 feet long and 64 feet above the Mississippi. The proposed St. Croix bridge is more than 3000 feet long and 140 feet above the river (the "sensible," half-fast bridge option is just as long). Isn't it common sense that a much longer bridge is going to cost much more? The only thing the two bridges have in common is that they cross a river. The reason bridge opponents use the comparison is to obfuscate the facts, suspend critical thinking and get people riled up emotionally.
Old Mort February 07, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Joe and Bob...perhaps you should've read my first post. I never said that the total cost of the bridge $700,000,000 plus would be paid by Minnesota alone. Please read my first post above from yesterday. And Joe you don't sound too smart either. Read the first line of your last post. You both sound like Wisconsin commuters...hahahaha..
Susan February 07, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I understand your point, but shouldn't the fact that this bridge project is nearly three times the cost of any other bridge the state has ever built, be a good indication that it may be out of scale? I don't love the diagonal bridge either, but in a spend-wisely economy, this MNDOT proposed bridge IS a luxury item. One more point: It has taken 80 years for the number of commuters using this bridge to grow to 9 or 10,000 daily. Do you really think that the population of one corner, of one county in Wisconsin is going to grow so much that it will justify needing a four-lane, freeway-speed bridge? I mean, where does 64 go on the other side of New Richmond?
joe February 07, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Martin I'm not sure what's not smart about my last post, except that it show you and I don't think alike. And that opponents are not being consistent in their cost estimates. They say the 3-lane bridge costs 300 million dollars. They don't include any cost other than the structure of the span. Then they say the 4 lane bridge costs 700 million because of related costs, including upkeep to the freeway in Roseville MN. If you compare total cost of both bridges they will be close, up to 700 million. If you compare the cost of a 3 lane span to a 4 lane span they will be close. The difference is in related costs and environmental items that will not change no matter what design is built. I want the opponents to start being honest by comparing apples to apples. Then people will see that you won't be able to build a more "sensible" bridge for less money, and we can overcome that fictitious argument.
Old Mort February 07, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Joe: I agree with Susan...she sounds smarter than you and Bob put together.
joe February 07, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Martin don't to take it so hard. I didn't say you are not smart. Just that Bob sounds smarter. It's not personal. Susan sounds smart too but not as smart as Bob.
Old Mort February 07, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Joe: I would be willing to bet that you and Bob are cheese heads....hahahaha...
Susan February 08, 2012 at 12:04 AM
You guys are too funny! One thing is clear, those that have done their research, and have made up their mind, are not going to be swayed by anything said here. I think we can all agree that $700 million dollars is a lot of money, and justifying it, for a relatively small number of people, is a hard thing to do. For the record Bob, I was not trying to obfuscate anything, suspend any critical thinking, or get anyone riled up. On the contrary, I would hope that my thoughts on the subject would get people seeing the other side of the debate, or consider things they hadn't before considered. Not everyone has a maligning agenda.
D. Knutson February 08, 2012 at 12:13 AM
@ Martin Your comment about people having big enough boats to cause the bridge to be raised shows your true colors.   I guess if the the showboats that bring business to town, and people on those boats with a desire to go north, should be told NO even if they are bringing money to Stillwater.  I'm surprised you didn't say if the boats want to go under the bridge they should pay a tax, or let's raise taxes on boats that are too high to go under the bridge and use it to pay for the new bridge.   You take a shot at Joe & Bob being Wisconsin commuters, who cares?  If it gets them home quicker and creates economic growth across the river that's great, more growth is more jobs, and more money in the valley.   Our current leader gave $500 million to Solyndra and that solar deal disappeared behind the clouds, GONE.   The bridge could provide private industry growth in the area, and even if it didn't, we would have a bridge to use versus an empty building and dumpsters full of discarded tax dollars.   Just a thought, but why not make it a toll bridge, $0.25 each way would add $1.6 million to the bottom line each year. You people that want more taxes hold be all over this approach...... FAIR SHARE, right? Oh wait, your Sunday 12-pack would cost $0.50 more.... Bad idea..
Bruce February 08, 2012 at 12:15 AM
I am a staunch Democrat, but I can't back her on this. If redistricting puts me in the position of having to vote for her I don't know what I'll do.
Susan February 08, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Even if you want to consider that the comparison should be $290 million (for just the bridge span) for this project, vs. $260 million for 35W, you have to admit that spending MORE money on a bridge that moves ONE EIGHTH the traffic, is out of line. It is not misleading to say that this bridge connects to "almost" nowhere. Pretending as though this is some huge thoroughfare connecting two large metropolitan areas is not even close to the truth. On the Wisconsin side of this bridge, there is nothing more than a rural area, followed by a small town with a population of less than 3,000, followed by a rural area, and then another small town - population 8,000. Who are these people trying to kid when they say this is a major interstate freeway? Where does 64 go after New Richmond?
Susan February 08, 2012 at 01:31 AM
D., by your logic, the $500 million to Solyndra, and the jobs it provided at the time, were a terrible waste of money, but $700 million to create jobs in a very rural area is okay? Or is it spending $70,000 per commuter to make their drive a little quicker the big benefit to tax payers? Where can I get on that kind of government hand out?
Alex Mundy February 08, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Sorry, Martin, you lose that bet. I've been a Stillwater resident for 20 years, I have a business here and I regularly patronize downtown restaurants, art galleries and other retailers. I can honestly say that the single worst aspect of living in Stillwater is the volume and noise of traffic, especially in the summer. Most of that traffic is going THROUGH town, not coming to town. That huge negative would be eliminated by rerouting east-west traffic out of town while improving access from the south, which is where most tourist traffic comes from anyway.
Hudsoner February 08, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Susan, St. Croix County is the fastest growing county in Wisconsin! It can be assumed that the growth will continue for a while (if one looks at what the different school districts have in their forecast). The bridge will not only be the feeder for 64, but also for 35. Is there any other bridge in Minnesota that is 3000 feet long? If not, one cannot compare bridges with each other!
D. Knutson February 08, 2012 at 03:27 AM
William  You missed the main point, it wasn't the size of the bridge, how many lanes, the pilings, or how long it was.  So let me explain it for you, the fact is they built the bridge many years after the WRSA was enacted, no big arguments, no wacko groups messing with it to stop it being built.   Maybe you could be a little more extreme.......  Illegal?  Probably not. Violate the WRSA?  Don't think so. Delist the St Croix?  Not necessary to build the bridge. Destroy the efficacy of the WRSA? Really? Cluttered with homes right down to the river? Don't think so.. Just a little bit of embellishment maybe?  
Randy Marsh February 08, 2012 at 03:38 AM
Thanks for the laugh, Hudsoner. What does it mean to be the fastest growing county in Wisconsin? I assume that means the foreclosure rate is below 25 percent. Certainly all those housing developments are bursting at the seams. And before you start believing anything the school districts are shoveling you should know that South Washington County was led to believe they needed to build a high school and this has been proven unwarranted and unwise. I don't really care how long or big the bridge is, $700 million cannot be justified even if its use were to double in the next 50 years. You need to deal with the fact that all that land across the border is worth far more as farmland than housing and the sprawl has ended. This is practically indisputable at this point.
D. Knutson February 08, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Susan The $500,000 million came and went faster than the Sierra club can get to Stillwater.   The impact Solyndra made on employment was negligible at best, but as long as you brought the jobs thing up, I'm thinking there will be more jobs per dollar spent on the the bridge than they had at Solyndra, and they will easily last longer too.   There's really just two choices, let the traffic count continue to grow, impact the Downtown and where you live even more, or do something about it and build a bridge.  It has nothing to do with people getting home faster, but interestingly enough you too will probably get home quicker.
Susan February 08, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Fastest growing county in Wisconsin? By what standards, and how does that affect the rest of the tax paying citizens in the two states? I am not necessarily disputing your statement, only questioning if it justifies such a large price tag. As I mentioned earlier, Somerset has a population of less than 3,000, New Richmond, just over 8,000. Because a good portion of St. Croix County is serviced by I94, you can not claim that all of St Croix County, or it's potential growth will benefit from this mega bridge.
Alex Mundy February 08, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Okay Susan, Randy, Martin, Bill and other bridge opponents. Do you agree with McCollum and "common sense" tax guy Alexander that a new bridge across the St. Croix is needed to replace the aging and deficient lift bridge? If you do, there are certain costs that will apply to any new bridge. Right of way: $31.4 million. Mitigation: $26.2 million. Contingency/risk: $110 million. Engineering: $55 million. Minnesota approach: $65 million. Wisconsin approach: $38.4 million. Hwy. 36 at Oakgreen/Greeley intersection: $15.3 million. (MNDOT and WSDOT estimates) So, without even adding the cost of any kind of bridge, we're already at $341.3 million. Even when you add the wildly underestimated initial cost of the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership Alternative of $283 million, that brings the total cost to $624.3 million, conservatively. MNDOT said additional environmental review for the "sensible" bridge could add $10 - $15 million. But let's stick with $624.3 million. Compare that to the estimated project total for the four-lane river crossing: $633.4 million. Does a mere $9.1 million difference make the current proposal less ridiculous? Or does it make the "sensible" alternative more ridiculous? If you agree that we need a new bridge, then you have to face the reality that building a new 3,000-foot bridge -- three lanes or four -- over a river protected by miles of bureaucratic red tape is an expensive proposition.
Susan February 08, 2012 at 11:31 AM
I understand the bridge will stay around longer than Solyndra, but my argument goes back to the large cost vs. benefit ratio. It is a huge price tag in proportion to those it will help. Regardless of where this money is spent, whether it is all on one bridge, or spread over several projects, it will create jobs. Spending nearly $700 million on a luxury item to create jobs, is not a good excuse. Yes, I will absolutely appreciate the reduction in traffic near my home! I am not against a new bridge, I am just against the bluff to bluff mega bridge. It is too big for the area, and much too expensive. Of-course I will admit that I am not a bridge designer, nor an engineer, so I can not speak with great authority as to why all other bridge designs have been rejected by MNDOT, but from what I have read (and it's a lot - including from MNDOT), it seems we are just to take their word for it that this is the ONLY feasible design, while others (who are experts in the field) say otherwise.
William Pappas February 08, 2012 at 12:29 PM
Any argument that argues for a new bridge, like Hudsonser's, is in total agreement with those arguing for a smaller bridge. We do not disagree with the need for a new bridge. Hudsoner has been coming to Stillwater for years and he still sits in traffic for a half hour waiting to get into town. What's wrong with that picture or with Hudsoner's creative thinking. Hudsoner, you can run through the South Hill and reach Stillwater in just a minute or two longer than it takes on 95 and 36 from Bayport to Stillwater. It is like the city attorney lamenting is half hour commute to get from the city buildings to the South Hill. He's been living here for decades and he doesn't know enough to avoid the traffic bottlenecks? Disingenuous, folks. Besides, those reasons don't justify the 700 million dollar price tag or the enormity of this bridge or the necessity to imperil the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. There is no possible way the megabridge piers (that litterally dwarf the 94 bridge in size, footprint and riverbed impact) can be considered attractive in the St. Croix Valley. Of course, the MNDOT siimulation is skilled in skewing perspective, so you can't understand it that way. Bob, you're right. This bridge will be an expensive proposition. But MNDOT needs to rethink it's priorities with regard to the bridge landings. They are the ones that have driven up sensible alternatives. They have chosen confrontation with their design, not the other way around!
joe February 08, 2012 at 02:38 PM
WP how can you still try to say that a smaller bridge is an option? I know you're not interested in facts, but the facts show that the three lane bridge would not be less expensive than the four lane bridge. Can you be a little more specific on what your hypothetical smaller bridge would look like? Would it have just two lanes? Would it be low to the river to require a lift to let boats under? That would keep the cost down. Would it use the proposed building site, or something different? Using Bob's numbers from the MnDOT, which costs would be saved? Or maybe it's time for you to come out and admit that your goal is no bridge at all, just like the Sierra club.
Alex Mundy February 08, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I don't understand this demonization of MNDOT. They have been tasked with building a river crossing to replace an aging lift bridge that costs more and more to repair and maintain. What possible motivation do they have for building the most expensive bridge possible? Is that how they approach every bridge, roadway and interchange project? Or is this project different because they've had to deal with the WSRA and challenges from environmental groups that would prefer to see no bridges touching the bluffs or the riverbed? Maybe MNDOT's motivation for building a bridge that is structurally sound with sufficient piers is that the 35W bridge collapse is still fresh in our memory. Poor design and cutting corners on that bridge caused the 1900-foot span to fall after only 42 years of use. Maybe MNDOT's motivation is not hubris, but simply a desire to build a safe river crossing that will serve the transportation needs of the area into the next century.
Susan February 08, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Bob, I have to admit, I had to think about this one for a while. Honestly, I don't know if these exact figures would be applied the same for any bridge that is built here, so I have forwarded your statement on to someone very close to the situation, and hope to hear back soon. As for MNDOT, I have to say that I am disappointed that it doesn't seem that they have done much in the last 15 years since the NPS told them that this bridge design/location was in violation of the WSRA. It reminds me a bit of a child stomping their feet and refusing to do anything, because they have been told no. Now I am aware that there were some changes made, but if it were my company, we would have taken an in depth look at the problem/s and worked to inform everyone of all the information we had that showed that this was what we found to be the right answer. If every option had truly been studied to death, I would make sure to get that information out to everyone involved and interested. If we were still told no, we would work our very best to make sure we could get things as close to how the customer wanted it to be, providing of-course, that safety and our integrity standards could be met. Personally, I have not seen MNDOT do this...and I have looked.
Jim February 16, 2012 at 01:34 AM
The builders of the Tacoma suspension bridge, Bechtel, indicate the Tacoma bridge cost about $1,500 per square foot. Given that number a suspension bridge over the narrows of the St Croix north of Stillwater would cost about $180,000,000 OR one hundred and eighty million dollars, 60 foot wide deck (4 traffic lanes and 10 feet for bikes and pedestrians), 2,000 feet long. An additional 100 million for work on Manning and 96 and 95 and the solution comes in at $280,000,000 OR $420,000,000 less than the proposed bridge. I'm 100% with McColumn on this. Bachman, Ellison and Klobachar are making a BIG mistake supporting a huge very expensive white elephant, bridge to nowhere. Government, Don't make this BIG mistake, creating a huge eyesore on the lower St Croix, instead construct a work of art of a suspension bridge to be treasured by photographers and artists alike just north of Stillwater. Do this RIGHT!

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