Tolls on the St. Croix River Crossing?

“I think this is a crazy proposal,” Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) said. “I will not be voting for any kind of toll road or toll bridge between the great states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

In an attempt to find new ways to fund roads and transit in Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that DFL leaders want to explore the idea of placing tolls on the yet-to-be-built St. Croix River Crossing.

According to the “Innovative Financing Study” prepared for MnDOT in 2011, using tolls on the St. Croix River Crossing could pay for nearly half of its capital costs, as well as all of its ongoing operations and maintenance costs.

"It's a potentially important source of revenue," Rep. Frank Hornstein (D-Mpls.), chairman of the House transportation finance committee told the Star Tribune.

Gov. Mark Dayton's transportation commissioner reportedly told the Star Tribune that he’s open to the idea and thinks it “needs to be explored.”

"Tolling the St, Croix River Crossing is operationally practical and can provide a significant new funding source, the 2011 study states. However, tolling is only feasible if Minnesota and Wisconsin join in getting specific federal and state legislation passed, and the 2006 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the St. Croix River Crossing is re‐evaluated to determine if additional environmental review is needed to address the tolling approach.”

The project revenues — charging $3 for a round trip — could support 40‐60 percent ($265 million to $390 million) of the project’s upfront construction costs, according to the 2011 Tolling Options study.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) said taxpayers in both Minnesota and Wisconsin are already paying for roads and the bridge, and he sees no reason to make them pay more.

“I think this is a crazy proposal,” Dettmer said. “I will not be voting for any kind of toll road or toll bridge between the great states of Minnesota and Wisconsin.”

For some, this new tax could amount to an additional $1,500 a year, Sen. Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point) said.

“It's important to provide adequate funding for Minnesota's infrastructure; however, a St. Croix bridge toll would dip even further into the pocketbooks of those who live and work near the Minnesota-Wisconsin border,” Housley said. “We want to encourage people to come into our state and contribute to our economy, not burden them with additional fees and taxes.”

Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater) said she was “pretty baffled” by the proposal.

“Why we’re talking about funding now is perplexing,” Lohmer said. “It’s a done deal, the project is totally funded. So no, I don’t support tolls.

“Why Minnesota is looking for new revenue is beyond me,” she continued. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem —we can’t keep going back to the taxpayers for more money.”

On the Wisconsin side of the river, State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) agrees. The senator sent the following statement to Hudson Patch: 

“Construction of this long overdue project is finally moving forward and funding sources have already been identified by both states. Now is not the time to delay this vital transportation link between our two states with proposals that have already been considered and rejected.”

Many area residents also chimed in with their reactions on a Hudson Patch Facebook post asking, "Would you still use the new St. Croix River Crossing if it was a toll bridge?" Here is a sampling of some responses:

Angela Edwin: I wouldnt pay to use it at all. A toll is ridiculous! They pushed so hard for the new bridge so they need to find out a way to pay for it without penalizing the public.

Shaye Kalik: Nope! I'd venture farther into wisconsin instead of spending my $$ in Minnesota. Well, that or use 94.

Passport House Cleaners Lange: I think there might be some outrage over this as the residents that supported this bridge and all they had to go through to get it, were never told it would be a toll bridge thus defeating its purpose.

Jim Dyer: Tax this, Tax that. Why? so they can waste more of our money??? Can someone say reduce the cost of government???

Dennis Crawford: Oh sure... Broaden your tax base MN (for more wasteful spending), by taxing out of state residents traveling into your state. I don't believe that's legal... or at least it shouldn't be. What a massive burden that would put on daily commuters.

Ted Johnston: I've always liked use fees instead of general taxes. Why should a person in Milwaukee or Mankato have to pay for a bridge in Stillwater. I would think that any toll would have to be shared between the states, otherwise, could you see the rate war. 
That being said, if there were to be tolls, it should have been voted on as a toll bridge. Adding tolls now amounts to a bait and switch. 
Stop the bridge until there is an agreement from both sides to not impose tolls.

Joel Larsen: Can't happen unless Wisconsin goes along with it along with an act of Congress. Pretty doubtful it would happen.

What do you think? Should there be a usage fee or toll on the yet-to-be-built St. Croix River Crossing? Tell us in the comments.

yomammy February 19, 2013 at 08:25 PM
massive bridge? how? last i heard it was four lanes....thats not massive. scenic river...with a giant smokestak... you all say use the 94 bridge. um. no. apparently the forefathers of the past figured we needed a crossing at stillwater. this new bridge is just replacing that worn out POS. my only gripe is that it dosent appear to have space for future rail line on it.
Colonel Mustard February 20, 2013 at 01:54 AM
@CB..when the new bridge is completed Walker will likely have "privatized" all of the road and they will be "toll roads". That's the way is should be in a Randian/Libertarian world. Those who drive on those roads should pay for them. Seems like a good Walker/Ryan type of approach. Or Walker may be providing "vouchers" for road usage.
Carbon Bigfuut February 20, 2013 at 03:42 AM
That would be rather difficult, since the state doesn't own all of the roads. And those who benefit from the roads DO pay for them, via property taxes, fuel taxes, excise taxes, etc.
Pat D February 20, 2013 at 04:26 AM
It's ridiculous to propose a toll after the funds for the bridge have already been approved. The bridge is getting built using existing funds. It is NOT overbuilt. How many of you complaining actually live in Washington County and the St. Croix Valley? Traffic on Hwy. 36 demands an adequate river crossing, which does not come inexpensively. The bridge will be located next to the Andersen Windows factory and the King Power Plant, not a particularly scenic part of the St. Croix. And to say that the I-94 bridge is just "a few minutes away", no. It is 7 miles away, at least 10-15 minutes each direction - longer on the Wisconsin side since it is necessary to drive through Hudson and North Hudson. Don't make it difficult to use the bridge because you're not happy about it being approved!
Colonel Mustard February 20, 2013 at 04:42 AM
The constant naysayers must have their day to lament something. It was just a "finger in the wind" test for a toll. Most of the naysayers can't even get the costs right as they constantly include the costs of upgrading Hwy. 36 in the total. This is a separate project involving MN only.
Shirley February 20, 2013 at 03:10 PM
I've seen WI news articles proposing a toll also. It's not about paying for building the St. Croix bridge. It's about drumming up more $$ to repair other transportation infrastructure. I cringe whenever I hear someone complain that Wisconsinites should be happy with having the I94 bridge. It's a transportation route for semis! Which leads to .. how does a toll affect Minnesota. If Wisconsin were smart that would lead to commercial development to eliminate the need to head to MN, at least to shop. Commodities moved over the bridge would add the overhead into the price of that product. MN would begin to lose considerable sales tax revenue .. I for one prefer shopping in Stillwater than Hudson (which I personally avoid like the plague -- driving in Hudson traffic to shop along the 94 corridor is already inconvenient and a hazard. Anyone commuting to work in either direction would be hurt the most .. even at $3 a toll, that's a bite out of one's budget. Those who complain about WI residents heading to work in MN. Have you been traveling the bridge in the morning commute and seen just how many cars from MN are heading to work in WI? I think you'd be surprised.
Art Rutscher February 20, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Adding a toll for crossing this bridge is a major change in the way any road or bridge has been funded in Minnesota. If the reason for the toll is to fund this bridge alone, the $3.00 toll is excessive. If this is a way to increase revenue for all highways in MN, then why only have a toll on this single 1 mile bridge? There are "massive" bridges all over the state that should also be canditates for tolls. The cost for crossing this bridge is pennies per trip, not dollars. This funding source needs to be debated for all bridges and roads in the state, not for a single bridge. Especially now, after the funding and planning for the project have been set in motion.
Randy Marsh February 20, 2013 at 09:09 PM
Outside of light rail, Art, I don't believe there has been a single transportation project of this scale in Minnesota. How the powers that be decided that such a large chunk of Minnesota's transportation dollars should go to a project that primarily benefits Wisconsin commuters is beyond me.
Colonel Mustard February 21, 2013 at 05:29 AM
It's paid for over a long period of time. Bonds will be issued to pay for it and repaid over a 20 or 30 year period of time. That is how most public infrastructure is paid for. Nothing new here That bridge goes past a huge manufacturing facility (Andersen Windows) and a power plant with a 750 foot exhaust stack (The King plant). It's not exactly pristine canoeing territory. Give it a rest. The bridge is now under construction.
yomammy February 21, 2013 at 01:23 PM
because its not always about you.
Matt February 21, 2013 at 01:37 PM
There's not money for this. But somehow people keep pushing it anyways.
Matt February 21, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Correct. The 35W bridge is more than 25x more efficient per user than this new boondoggle. Whereas it would not be worth the marginal cost per crossing to capture the $0.1141 cost per crossing of the 35W bridge, it would make much more sense to capture the $3+ per crossing cost of this new bridge.
Matt February 21, 2013 at 01:48 PM
Here's the reason anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative MUST be against this project. The growth ponzi scheme is over. http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2010/3/15/victory-on-the-st-croix-but-over-what.html
Matt February 21, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Art, it's very simple to calculate the cost per trip. Crossings per day * 365 * amortization years, then divide by cost. In this case, we're subsidizing a commuter using the bridge every work day by over $1500 a year (see StrongTowns analysis). If you find any other bridges that cost $6 per driver over 40 years, then we definitely need to put tolls on those bridges too. Keep in mind most freeway bridges in the metro are somewhere between a nickel and two dimes per driver per crossing over 40 years.
Peter, Hudson, Wis. February 21, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Bridge toll is DOA in Wisconsin. Walker and company will not approve. Not to mention the question would be in litigation for decades -- far longer than the Sierra Club used to stall the bridge.
Alex C February 21, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Anyone on here complaining about taking MORE taxpayer money by tolling crossers is entirely missing the point. This bridge is $670M+ of TAXPAYER money that could otherwise be going to fund OTHER projects. Thousands of MN and WI roads and bridges currently in disrepair. You need to differentiate between a USER FEE (toll) and a TAX. Tolling the users of this bridge (all 14,000 of them daily, many of which are cabin-goers or shoppers looking for clothing in MN or beer in WI) for this 'wonderful' bridge wouldn't even begin to cover the up-front construction costs, let alone the debt service (interest) or future maintenance (in 20-25 years what is the financial liability of THIS bridge, and will it get passed over for some new fancy one in Prescott, WI????). If people aren't willing to pay $3 to cross it because there is a bridge 1.5 miles north or a freeway bridge 5 miles south, then WHY ARE WE BUILDING IT!? http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/10/24/dig-baby-dig.html http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2010/11/29/the-ridiculous-old-economy-project-that-wont-die.html http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2010/3/15/victory-on-the-st-croix-but-over-what.html
Alex C February 21, 2013 at 03:29 PM
From: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/97022124.html?source=error "No one would question the importance of reconstructing the I-35W bridge, with its 140,000 vehicles crossings daily, at a price of $234 million. But $668 million to accommodate 3,000 more crossings daily [above current usage on the Stillwater bridge]? Is that a wise expenditure of tax dollars?" Seriously, we're talking about a minor inconvenience of drive time for people who CHOSE to live ina particular area given where jobs, shopping, recreation, etc are. Why are we subsidizing this lifestyle. Furthermore, building what is essentially another high-capacity freeway will only encourage further low-productive development across the river. Why is this a good idea? How can we justify building new bridges when there are over 1,100 structurally deficient ones in MN that carry a combined 2.4M vehicles a day?? This is simply outrageous. The bridge project should be cancelled, and if not, absolutely tolled to cover the outrageous cost per passenger to fund our other liabilities in this state.
Alex C February 21, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Well there are 2 options.. 1) cancel the project. Have Obama follow through on his "fix it first" mantra from the SOTU address and change the rules associated with federal funds - allow them to be used on maintenance projects. MN can keep its half of the money and go fix all the other bridges instead. Or.. 2) Build it and toll it. If this bridge is really worth $700M (ok, I understand much of the money is going to improve the bike/nature area around the existing bridge), for the 16,000 - 18,000 crossers per day (compared to the 140,000 on the 35W bridge that cost 1/3 as much), then they should pay for it so the state can fix our other roads and bridges. I'm sure it's worth it to save a bit of time, right?
Alex C February 21, 2013 at 04:24 PM
"Cost vs. benefit; a simple concept which was wholly ignored here." No doubt. It was simply a discussion of "this is simply a benefit to me, we're going to scream and scream until we get it regardless of the cost." I find it funny that the general notion is that this is a project 50 years long overdue. If that is the case, how has ANYONE survived the past 50 YEARS with the current situation? What was the opportunity or positive outcome that could have happened had this bridge been built in Truman's time?
Colonel Mustard February 22, 2013 at 06:36 AM
I just do not understand you folks and your constant "woulda", "coulda", "shoulda". I have lived in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and now Wisconsin (which I am beginning to think was a big mistake), My work took me to at least 20 other states and a couple of other countries where I spent enough time to get a "feel" for these areas. The most recent time was six months spent in the Seattle area. I have lived in this area for nearly 40 years. I have never experienced or observed the level of negativity that I see in this area. There is the focus on "the bridge"; the is the non-stop sniping at the Hudson School Board. What causes it? Is it in the drinking water? It's against, against, against. When decisions are made then there is constant carping about the decisions. I'm not talking about any single person, but the overall attidude around the Valley is just as if there is a huge black cloud over the area. The bridge and apporach roads are going to be built. The area is going to continue to grow no matter how many complaints are lodged. A grand compromise was reached; the Lift Bridge will remain as a historic artifact and the new bridge which will be a stunning example of engineering will be built. Why is this bad? If one wants to see an example of an ugly bridge, just take a look at the I-94 bridge in Hudson. The new one will be graceful with pleasing lines. Look to the future people and stop whining, bitching and complaining.
limeex2 February 22, 2013 at 01:19 PM
CM, perfect post! That's called M Minnesota nice.
yomammy February 22, 2013 at 01:26 PM
Alex Mundy February 22, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Susan, I wouldn't mind the protestations so much if they came from a position of intelligent debate. The trouble is that what I read from the bridge opponents is a constant recycling of inaccurate comparisons with the 35W bridge and nonsensical arguments that don't take into account the costs of not building a new bridge. The 35W bridge, with financial incentives to accelerate the building schedule, cost $234 million. The BRIDGE portion of the St. Croix River Crossing (minus the 7+ miles of road construction, mitigation, etc.) is estimated at $292 million. For that price, we're getting a bridge that's longer, higher, built almost entirely over water and more complicated in its design vs. a shorter, simpler concrete span that connected existing infrastructure without the costs of environmental and historical mitigation. The second Big Fallacy is that we can make due with what we have because a) not that many people use the deteriorating lift bridge (and the ones that do are all Wisconsin commuters) and b) we have a perfectly good river crossing just "a few minutes south." That not only assumes that the number of bridge users will not increase significantly in 50 or 100 years, it ignores the costs of moving traffic to the Hudson bridge -- increased maintenance, increased congestion, lost opportunity costs and decreased quality of life in traffic corridors leading to the bridge. I don't deny the whiners their right to dissent. Just stick to reality, please.
Matt February 22, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Alex Mundy, not really sure how the facts are helping you out. The 35W bridge carries over ten times the traffic that the St. Croix Bridge will carry. And, sticking to reality, you'll notice that Vehicle Miles Traveled peaked about 5 years ago and is declining. It looks like people will drive less than they did in the past. So it's actually reasonable to now assume that the actual numbers will be less than the projected numbers for this bridge. Therefore 50 or 100 years from now this bridge will be needed even less than it is needed today.
Alex C February 22, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Alex M, As you stated, the I35W bridge included incentives for early completion, which inflates the price. Even with that said, it cost less than the St Croix bridge while carrying nearly 10x the daily riders (and have 10 vs 4 lanes even if it is shorter). http://goo.gl/YLMdo I'm confused why you dismiss certain costs in building this bridge as if they're marginal in comparison to other bridge projects (35W,deficient bridges in both states that only require construction). Are any of the following not KEY components to having a functional new StC bridge: WI/MN approach, TH36 intersection, ROW acquisition, contingency/risk, bonds/insurance, Engineering/management?? To build this bridge, the cost is $574.4M. The 35W bridge cost included all of those categories (as applicable). What is the cost breakdown of those 16k crossings on the Hudson bridge? The quality of life lost for the extra 7 miles to the Hudson bridge, & the hard costs (gas, wear on vehicles)? Please don't include lost money based on the time-value of money, because it's not real money people are losing, as that time will rarely, if ever, result in lost wages. This project needs to die. Fix the current bridge and provide the environmental improvements. Fix the rest of the bridges in MN with the money saved (~$371M), avoid asking taxpayers for more money to fix them. WI can do the same. Stop inducing more traffic to low productivity places.
Colonel Mustard February 22, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Why is it necessary to bring the Constitution of the United States into this discussion? My comments and those of others have nothing to do with "freedom of speech". My comments had to do with "a spirit of negativity" and the continuous repetition of the same comments; not with the rights of people to make them. Yes housing prices are down over what they were before the Great Recession, but they are rising as the economy slowly recovers from the depth of recesion. Housing starts are increasing on an annual basis. There are currently 14 new homes under construction within a 3 minute drive from my house. With $4 gas comes 40-50 mpg vehicles to level the playing field. We live in the 13 county Twin Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area as defined by the US Census Bureau, which includes St. Croix and Pierce counties. In our particular corner of the area there is a river which physically divides the state, but it does not divide the economic area. We should be happy and proud to live in such a growing and prosperous area, many other parts of the country should be this lucky. Good infrastructure and schools are part of what keeps such a metro area growing and healthy. Most people (including me) didn't think that the LRT line in Mpls would be used. I was wrong as it is highly successful and two more lines are being built. This progress is not helped by constant nagging and whining. The bridge is going to be built whether over a river or a lake.
Micheal Foley February 22, 2013 at 08:58 PM
Most states would want people to come in from outside to help extend the economic base of the state. Afterall, these Wisconsinites buy things in Minnesota and contribute to the success of the companies they work for. Shouldn't everyone want that?
Alex Mundy February 22, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Alex C, did the costs for the 35W bridge include constructing three miles of four-lane highway on one side and reconstructing three miles of four-lane highway on the other side? Did the costs for the 35W bridge include: - Historic and environmental mitigation? - Extensive trail facilities that include converting an existing lift bridge to a bike and pedestrian crossing? - Adding turn lanes to two intersections to improve capacity? - Realigning an intersection to improve access points and motorists' safety? - Creating a shared center turn lane by converting north and south frontage roads from two 12-foot lanes into three 11-foot lanes? - Adding a trail along a frontage road to connect to a new loop trail? - Adding ponds to improve storm water treatment and water quality? - Creating new access to a highway from a frontage road? - Realigning a smaller bridge to include bike and pedestrian trails? - Constructing noise and retaining walls? - Adding traffic signals, lighting, signing and pavement markings? - Implementing a new Intelligent Transportation Systems that includes cameras and traffic detection? - Relocating utilities? The majority of the costs of the St. Croix Crossing project are above and beyond the cost of building a functional new bridge. Rather than wasting money, the project efficiently solves more than a dozen transportation issues that will benefit current and future residents of both states for decades to come.
Matt February 22, 2013 at 10:11 PM
Will the St. Croix bridge include ten lanes and structural support for light rail? Nope. Didn't think so. As has been explained, the 35W bridge was roughly the same cost as just the bridge part of this project yet it serves 10x the people. Yet the extra hundreds of millions of dollars for non-bridge improvements do not change the fact that this will only increase the mobility of ~16,000 people a day (likely a high estimate since VMT is decreasing YOY). Therefore it is still a fact that we're subsidizing a daily user of this bridge by over $1,500 a year per person. Glad you think that's a smart investment since then you won't feel ripped off like the rest of us as we pay off those bonds for 40 years.
Alex Mundy February 23, 2013 at 01:00 AM
Do you live in Stillwater, Matt? Do you deal with the congestion every day? Do you support the downtown businesses that are looking forward to getting rid of the weeknight and weekend traffic jams? Do you drive on Highway 36 often even though you rarely use the bridge? The benefits of the bridge crossing go far beyond the people who are driving back and forth across the bridge every day. So, yes, I do think it's a good investment for the present and the future. And don't you think an efficient, fast and convenient crossing that doesn't take drivers through Stillwater is going to attract more users? One of the big arguments against the bridge for years was that it would cause development in Wisconsin. Now opponents say sprawl is over, VMT is decreasing, gas costs are rising and everyone's going to live in a sustainable urban environment where we walk to our jobs or take mass transit. And that's the way it's going to be for the foreseeable future. That ignores reality. Millions of people in Minnesota pay for public transportation infrastructure they never use. The cost for light rail alone is estimated by MnDOT to be as high as $100 million per mile. Ridership on light rail and commuter rail is subsidized to the tune of nearly $30 per ticket by taxpayers.


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