Worth the Wait: River Crossing Turns One
BY BILL RUBIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
To fanfare, the St. Croix River Crossing opened on August 2, 2017. History teaches us that good things come to those who wait. The St. Croix Valley waited decades for its moment last August. The opening event was widely covered by national news and Twin Cities media.
At the ceremonial ribbon-cutting held on the morning of August 2nd, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton spilled the beans by saying the new bridge would open later in the day. Into the microphone Gov. Dayton asked his transportation commissioner, “Charlie (Zelle), is it still 8:00 p.m.?” The program’s emcee, Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber, was quick with a reply, “The Governor has ruled it will be 8:00 p.m. tonight!” Cheers rang out. Until that moment, MnDOT had played it close to the vest about the exact day and time the new St. Croix River Crossing would open. Perhaps it was the worst kept secret in engineering circles.
If one bridge was set to open, then another would close. August 2nd marked the closing of the historic Lift Bridge in downtown Stillwater, MN. The last car across the Lift Bridge was a vintage 1931 Stutz convertible, the same year the Lift Bridge opened. The starter on the Stutz reportedly failed as it made its way across the bridge and even Stillwater’s Mayor helped push it along. At least it did not run out of gas as it appeared the Lift Bridge would. Old and tired, the erector-set-of-a-bridge was just about done. It served the St. Croix Valley well.
Fittingly, the Lift Bridge gets a second chance as a recreational amenity for the St. Croix Valley. The bridge is in the middle of a restoration. It is expected to reopen in mid-2019 for pedestrians and bicyclists to enjoy as they cross between Wisconsin and Minnesota on a loop trail connecting it to the new bridge.
Both Governor Dayton and Wisconsin Governor Walker were in rare form during the ceremonial opening. Gov. Dayton vowed to place a tollbooth on the new bridge and Green Bay Packer fans would pay double. Gov. Walker responded with a reminder of 2018’s Super Bowl game in Minneapolis and how convenient it would be for Packer fans to attend and cheer on their team. Alas, neither the toll booth nor Green Bay playing in the Super Bowl panned out.
Governor Walker may have summed it up best by saying, “This river may divide us, but this bridge unites us. It unites our commerce and our economy. It unites our employment base. … It unites our education, particularly higher education, and yes, even today, it unites us even as Packer and Viking fans.”
Whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, the St. Croix Crossing will have served the St. Croix Valley for one year as of August 2nd. Well played.