River Crossing Turns Three
On August 2, 2017 several thousand people along with local, state, and national dignitaries, helped open the St. Croix Crossing, a joint project between the Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation departments.
Happy third birthday, St. Croix Crossing!
The project endured a long history, some say going back to the 1970’s; others saying going back to flooding in the early 1950s, or just about 20-years after the lift bridge opened in downtown Stillwater, Minnesota in 1931. Over time, the term ‘historic’ was used to describe the lift bridge. It became functionally obsolete and needed replacing.
The new crossing was constructed over a protected river, the St. Croix, under the watchful eyes of critics and supporters.
It took an executive order by one U.S. President and a signature on federal legislation by another President to make the project a reality.
In September 2002, President George W. Bush issued an executive order to speed up federal environmental studies of major transportation projects throughout the U.S. The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) created a list of high priority transportation projects slowed by reviews and legal disputes. Replacing the lift bridge was among the first ten or so projects on the national list.
The environmental streamlining process brought numerous agencies and organizations together in a facilitated process in hopes a consensus could be reached on replacing the lift bridge. Between June 2003 and July 2006 a stakeholder group met at the Stillwater, Minnesota city hall to find common ground and solutions. The group recommended a bridge design and corridor about one mile south of the lift bridge.
In November 2006, the Federal Highway Administration issued its Record of Decision, meaning all project studies and reviews were complete, putting the new river crossing project in line for future funding and construction. Public comment of the Record of Decision remained open for 180-days. Near the close of comments, a lawsuit was filed.
Additional environmental reviews were done by the National Park Service (NPS), one of the participants in the stakeholder process. NPS recommended that no bridge be constructed over the St. Croix regardless of location or design because of the its protected qualities under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. How to obtain an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was outlined by NPS.
An effort to secure the exemption soon started in Washington, D.C. It was first approved by the U.S. Senate and then by the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama signed the legislation in March 2012.
The Minnesota DOT immediately commenced work on test borings into bedrock beneath the river bottom. Those test results gave prospective bridge construction bidders valuable details on conditions and stability. By ice-out in 2013, the construction project got underway, and in mid-2017, the project was substantially completed and ready to open.
If one bridge opens, another would close. The historic lift bridge in Stillwater closed simultaneous to the opening of the St. Croix Crossing. In June 2020, the rehabbed lift bridge opened as a recreational amenity for walkers, runners, and bicyclists to enjoy. Multi-use paths in Wisconsin and Minnesota connect the old lift bridge to the new crossing downstream, creating a nearly five mile loop.
Happy birthday, St. Croix Crossing. Welcome to a transformed use, historic lift bridge. Both are outstanding amenities in the St. Croix Valley of Wisconsin and Minnesota.