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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.”

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.
Bradley Johnson 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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