Updated: Minnesota-Wisconsin bridge wins committee approval

A new bridge over the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin awaits votes by the full U.S. House and Senate.

The final committee hurdle came Thursday when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the bridge with overwhelming bipartisan support. The final House committee already has given the plan its blessing.

“This is an important step in advancing this critical project so that residents and businesses in Stillwater and the St. Croix River Valley can finally have a safe, more efficient alternative to the 80-year-old lift bridge,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in the Senate and House to move this legislation forward in a timely manner.”

The new bridge, which could cost up to $690 million, has been controversial for years. Environmentalists have delayed building a new one because the St. Croix River is protected by federal legislation. Congress must approve a waiver from that law to allow a bridge to be built.

The existing bridge, which lifts for boats to pass, has numerous problems, among which is its two-lane limit that can produce long backups on both sides of the river. Thousands of Wisconsin residents use the bridge to commute to and from their Minnesota jobs.

The Coaltion for the St. Croix River Crossing issued a statement immediately following the committee’s passage of the bill.

“After 25 years of discussion and debate, we have never been closer to building a new crossing to replace our 80-year-old, fracture-critical, functionally obsolete bridge,” the statement read. “We know we have the right project because all other alternatives have been reviewed and rejected.

“No more delays. It’s time to build the bridge.”

Klobuchar was joined on the bill by Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. In the House, supporters include Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Chip Cravaack, R-Minn.; and Sean Duffy, R-Wis.

Franken, a member of the committee that approved the bridge, said he is “pleased that we’re now one step closer to getting this bridge built.”

There was no word on when the House or Senate could take up the measure.

Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, a Democrat, support the measure.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has been a vocal critic of bridge plan. Also, 30 Wisconsin and Minnesota state legislators this week wrote a letter opposing the bridge.

“This is an issue on which we are united,” said Minnesota state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis. “Both Minnesota and Wisconsin taxpayers will not be well served by a $700 million bridge that diverts already-limited resources for critical bridge repairs and road safety projects.”

Minnesota Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, added that the project would produce no economic benefits.

“My constituents and Wisconsin taxpayers are more concerned about repairing the bridges in their neighborhood rather than building a gold-plated bridge to Minnesota six miles north of an eight lane bridge that already exists,” said Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison.

Opponents say that than $380 million of Minnesota funds would be taken away from already scheduled transportation projects if the Stillwater bridge is built. In Wisconsin, general fund resources would be used, that would otherwise go towards education, health care and other priorities, that state’s bridge opponents say.

Another proposal is for a three-lane bridge that would cost less. However, Klobuchar said, that bridge would take decades more to build and need to do through lengthy federal hearings.

Jeff Holmquist of the New Richmond (Wis.) News contributed to this story. 

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