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Rivalries set aside for Stillwater bridge vote

Rivalries set aside for Stillwater bridge vote

Posting in Transportation

On Thursday, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, came together in support of a $690 million piece of legislation hat would replace the existing bridge connecting Stillwater, Minn. with Houlton, Wis.

Archrivals in football, Minnesota and Wisconsin are rarely in agreement.

On Thursday, however, a broad coalition of Vikings and Packers fans, including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, came together in support of a $690 million piece of legislation that would replace the existing bridge connecting Stillwater, Minn. with Houlton, Wis.

In spite of being named one of the most dangerous bridge crossings by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the effort to replace the aging Stillwater bridge was met with stiff competition by local representatives Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Betty McCollum (MN-4).

Ellison and McCollum were primarily opposed to the legislation based on claims of its excessive cost and Congress's failure to address a number of failing bridges across the region. “Minnesota has 1,400 neglected bridges statewide that need repair," said Ellison in a statement released Thursday:

"Limited transportation funds should be used responsibly for projects throughout the state. For example, the Interstate 35W Bridge, which tragically fell into the Mississippi River four years ago, cost $234 million to rebuild in its entirety and carries 140,000 vehicles daily. By contrast, the St. Croix Bridge is expected to cost $700 million and carry 18,000 vehicles a day."

Environmental groups also opposed the bridge, whose construction will mark the first exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a 1968 law protecting waterways of outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational value.

"The St. Croix River Valley is a federally protected watershed," the North Star chapter of the Sierra Club said in a statement Tuesday, "but the U.S. Senate recently passed a bill to essentially remove these protections to make way for the behemoth bridge."

Bachmann, a Stillwater resident and the bill's chief sponsor, said she was "absolutely thrilled" by the outcome of Thursday's vote.

“This is it!” she said. After decades of bureaucratic holdups and frivolous lawsuits from radical environmentalists, the people of the St. Croix River Valley will finally have their bridge."

Local residents, including Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and John Soderberg, who co-chair the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, said in a statement that the vote was a "huge victory for the people of Minnesota and Wisconsin," 86 percent of whom supported the bridge effort, according to an independent poll conducted Jan. 18-22.

Minnesota and Wisconsin's fierce sports rivalry aside, the legislative success forged Thursday is a sign of goodwill. How long into football season that camaraderie lasts, however, is an entirely different matter.

Photo: Dave Gingrich/Flickr

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Claire Lambrecht

Contributing Writer

Claire Lambrecht has written for the New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Nation, and CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, she taught English as a Teach for America Corps Member and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She holds degrees from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, and the Arthur M. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure