Not So Fast, River Crossing’s 10-Year Milestone
BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Tempus fugit. Time flies.
An internal calendar suggested something significant in the St. Croix Valley happened ten years ago.
Keys words typed into a search engine confirmed what the memory bank could not.
After decades of debate, after decades of hue and cry in the valley, after decades of government agencies fighting government agencies . . . the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation for a new bridge over the St. Croix River between St. Croix County, Wisconsin and Washington County, Minnesota.
The House vote of 339-80 occurred on March 1, 2012. The Senate’s bill was approved by unanimous consent back in January to set the stage for the House. The House vote followed a lively evening of floor debate on February 29th, or Leap Day. The Internet carried the House debate and vote live. The representative from Wisconsin whose district included the St. Croix Valley spoke with passion. He likened the rarity of a Leap Day debate with the unique opportunity to support the bill. He included the likes of the Packers and Vikings as an example of how people with differing viewpoints could come together to ensure passage. Sensing every vote mattered, the same representative may have been seen escorting a colleague toward the rostrum and well of the House chambers as a prelude to casting the vote.
On the eve of the House debate and vote, a local official was quoted, “I feel we’re in the final 48-hours of a 60-year-long race to get this bridge built.” Sixty years? Not so fast.
Would he or wouldn’t he? The legislation was sent to President Obama for his signature, and on March 14th the bill was signed. YES!
What a conundrum. What a puzzle solved. An aging Lift Bridge, opened in 1931 and approaching the end of its economic life, needed replacing. But not so fast. The St. Croix River was part of a network of Wild and Scenic Rivers protected by federal law. Historic preservationists and environmentalists were pitted against progressives due to a misunderstood codicil – Build a Bridge; Tear One Down. Not so fast. A federally-facilitated stakeholder group, convened from 2002-2005, recommended approval of a new bridge in a corridor about a mile downstream from the Lift Bridge. Their work came long after a December 1996 pronouncement from the National Park Service recommending no federal permits be issued on what was thought to be construction of a replacement bridge starting as early as 1997. Not so fast. In the project’s Record of Decision in 2006, the Federal Highway Administration said funding for a new bridge was years and years away – – 2024 to be exact. Not so fast.
One by one, U.S. Representatives and Senators started visiting the old Lift Bridge. Their support helped jumpstart a new effort to secure the federal bill authorizing an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Funding would follow.
And the rest? The rest is history. MnDOT named a project leadership team about the same time the bill was signed. The balance of 2012 was spent obtaining bedrock samples from beneath the riverbed. This gave project bidders the needed intel for informed estimates. One set of piers was eliminated from the project to further reduce an environmental impact. The iconic Lift Bridge was converted to a recreational amenity for pedestrians and bicyclists.
To fanfare, the St. Croix River Crossing opened in early August 2017, making it five years old this summer. Not so fast. History is still being written. Tempus fugit.