St. Croix River Crossing Bill Passes U.S. House Vote; Local Leaders Ask for Obama's Prompt Signature
"All we need to do is get the president to sign and we're on our way," says Stillwater Council Member Mike Polehna.
The St. Croix River Crossing passed through the House of Representatives this morning. The vote passed with a 339-80 vote.
The bill's passage means the legislation now needs to be signed by President Barack Obama.
In a phone interview with Rep. Michele Bachmann this afternoon, she said she "just got of the phone with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and he assured me the President of the United States would be signing the bill, which means we will have a new bridge over Stillwater."
Just this afternoon, delegates signed a letter asking Obama to promptly sign the bill.
On the state level, the city of Oak Park Heights has yet to sign a municipal agreement with MnDOT for the project. The two governmental bodies also have to work out the cost of utility relocation costs.
"What a wonderful day for Stillwater," Council Member Mike Polehna said. "All we need to do is get the president to sign and we're on our way. It's long overdue."
The Minnesota and Wisconsin delegates are "true champions," he said.
The Daily Grind Espresso Cafe was packed with the usual morning crowd, but today everyone was talking about the bridge.
At least a dozen patrons of the coffee shop had their laptops open watching the vote as it happened live online. As the five-minute clock ran out, cheers filled the downtown shop.
"This is one of those where-were-you moments in Stillwater," Tim Palm of the Daily Grind said.
This is an exciting time for downtown Stillwater, but it also means a lot of change, Megan Palm said.
"Don't get me wrong I am all for it, but such a big change is scary," she said. "It's sort of a double-edged sword. You don't know what will happen. It's scary to direct traffic away from downtown Stillwater, but hopefully it will draw the locals back downtown. We'll have to see, but that's what we're hoping for."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar's bipartisan legislation was the vehicle to move the project forward. She offered the following statement:
"After 30 years of debate and delay, we finally got it done. Today is a victory for the residents and businesses along the St. Croix River Valley who have waited long enough for a safe, new bridge. This effort is an example of what can get done when people put politics aside and do what is best for our state. I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the House and Senate as well as Governor Dayton who helped get this project over the finish line."
Stillwater resident and Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel who supported the project gave this statement:
"This is a momentous milestone for the St. Croix Valley, with the last barrier to a new river crossing removed today with the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, which will allow a new bridge to be built across the St. Croix River. Residents of the valley have hoped and planned and worked toward this for years, and the day has finally arrived. It will be a great gift to the communities and all of the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin to have a new crossing.
I want to thank those who have helped make this possible, especially Rep. Michele Bachmann who has worked diligently to provide the legislative backing for this exemption, as well as her colleagues in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, including Governors Dayton and Walker and the congressional delegation from Wisconsin. And I want to thank all the community members who believed in the project for decades, and have worked to plan and fund the bridge, while preserving the natural and historical assets of the valley.
I see a bright future for us ahead, as we reap the economic benefits that this new river crossing will provide. In the short term, we will be able to put hundreds of construction workers back to work on the building project. But more importantly, the free flow of transportation for people, goods and services is vital to a healthy economy in the valley, and the bridge will provide that. In addition, the reduction of congestion and traffic jams in downtown Stillwater will allow those businesses to provide friendly, down-home service to valley residents who want to visit their own downtown."
Stillwater City Council Member Micky Cook, who was the lone city representative to oppose the project said the following this afternoon:
"The exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is a devastating legacy to leave for future generations.
I want to thank Representative McCollum for her valiant efforts to do the right thing, especially in the face of relentless opposition from her colleagues, except Representative Ellison who also spoke against this action.
This has been politics at its worst - winning at any cost. And in this case the cost is 700 million taxpayer dollars and the future of all pristine river ways throughout the entire United States of America. The tactics were brutal and should be a warning to all that apparently the 'end does justify the means' and 'it does matter if you win or lose, not how you play the game.’
On a local level it included reckless spending, with the State Auditor finding against the city of Stillwater for its use of public money to fund the Bridge Coalition.
On the national level, procedures and laws were ignored or circumvented by making an exemption, using earmarks, putting it on Consent Agenda or a Suspension calendar.
All in the name of winning, never finding a compromise.
Opponents of the river crossing can be proud of their efforts to preserve the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and protect taxpayer dollars. Your motives and intentions were for the good of everyone, not just a few.
I will continue to press for solutions to the congestion in Stillwater. MNDOT proved good on their promise to meet with me. I will pursue any and all options to creatively and effectively deal with the real problem facing Stillwater - as I promised."
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and John Soderberg, co-chairs of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, issued the following joint statement:
"Today’s action by the United States House of Representatives is a huge victory for Minnesota and Wisconsin. This vote is the national recognition of decades of meetings, planning sessions, and compromise to find the right solution that benefits the entire region. Today’s vote assures that the St. Croix River Crossing will move forward.
"We are fortunate to see our region’s elected officials working together across party lines to fight for the needs of their constituents. We are especially thankful to Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Michele Bachmann, Ron Kind, and Sean Duffy for their hard work on behalf of the St. Croix River Valley. Governors Mark Dayton and Scott Walker have our deepest appreciation for their direct involvement with Congressional leaders.
"People in the St. Croix River Valley overwhelmingly support this project, and that support has become even more apparent in the last few days as people across the region called and e-mailed their representatives to urge them to pass this legislation. The people have been heard by Congress.
"We are excited and energized by today’s vote, but we won’t stop working until construction workers start building."
A statement by Stillwater resident Roger Tomten released by the Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership in opposition to the project reads:
We all agree that the two-lane Historic Lift Bridge has outlived its usefulness and can not support the estimated 17,000 vehicles that use the bridge nearly every day. We all agree that rush hour and weekend congestion in downtown Stillwater primarily caused by vehicles crossing the Lift Bridge needs to be remedied.
But we are troubled by the reams of misinformation spread by Rep. Bachmann’s allies and parroted by members of Congress as if they were fact. The latest being that the $690 million St. Croix River Crossing is a shovel-ready project. Or that “about half” of the project cost is for environmental mitigation. Or that a defeat of this bill means no bridge will be built. Unbelievable. These wildly exaggerated claims underscore the win-at-all-costs attitude of the Boondoggle Bridge champions.
In the coming weeks, we hope the Minnesota Legislature recognizes the fiscal and environmental irresponsibility of the St. Croix River Crossing and weighs the disproportionate impact its cost will have on other urgent transportation projects throughout our state. It’s too much bridge for too much money.
We firmly believe a Stillwater Bridge replacement can be built in the next three to four years at a cost far less than $690 million, with savings going to other bridge repair projects. Let’s hope Minnesota common sense prevails.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) released the following statement following the vote:
“This is it! After decades of bureaucratic holdups and frivolous lawsuits from radical environmentalists, the people of the St. Croix River Valley will finally have their bridge. I represent the most patient people in the nation and I could not be more thrilled about the outcome of today’s vote.
“One year ago today, I introduced St. Croix River Crossing legislation in the House and now this project has come full circle. From hearings in both chambers to debate in the House last evening, I am pleased we have a successful resolution through today’s passage.
“The St. Croix River Crossing Project is an incredible project that has incredible, bipartisan support. It is not very often that we get all four senators from Minnesota and Wisconsin, the governors from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a diverse group of representatives on board with the same issue. I give my heartfelt thanks to the supporters of this project. I also thank House leadership for recognizing the urgency of the issue and bringing this vote to the floor.
“I now look forward to this bill receiving the President’s signature so that construction can begin on this much-needed project.”
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), an opponent of the bill, issued the following statement:
“Every policy debate has two sides and I worked hard to reflect the voices of Minnesotans in the 4th District, as well as those Stillwater and Oak Park Heights residents who are deeply concerned about this mega-bridge project.
“Congress’ passage of this $700 million bridge bill doesn’t diminish its excessive cost, size, negative effect on Highway 36 traffic congestion, or its adverse impact on the St. Croix River.
“Supporters of this legislation, including Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Gov. Dayton, assume responsibility for protecting communities along Highway 36 from crippling traffic congestion and the families and businesses of Oak Park Heights from property tax increases – the direct consequences of the project they so strongly championed.
“I want to thank my friend and Minnesota colleague, Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-05) for his eloquence on the floor of the House in opposition to S. 1134. I share Congressman Ellison’s concern that replacing one bridge at a cost of $700 million to the exclusion of more than 1,100 other structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota places too many communities and motorists at risk. I am committed to working with Rep. Ellison, Gov. Dayton and all Minnesota members of Congress and state legislators to repair or replace these substandard bridges.”
The Greater Stillwater Area Chamber of Commerce posted the following status update on Facebook:
Today is a historic day for the entire St. Croix Valley Region. We owe a huge amount of gratitude and thanks to Governors Mark Dayton, Scott Walker, and to Senator Amy Klobuchar for all their support; and to Representatives Michele Bachmann, Ron Kind and Sean Duffy who did an outstanding job on the house floor last night; and to the St. Croix River Crossing Coalition consulting team, board members and supporters who worked tirelessly to reach today’s vote; and finally, we owe a special think you to Stillwater mayor, Ken Harycki, for his unyielding leadership over the many years that led to this historic moment. Thank you to all!!
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) issued the following statement:
“The passage of this bill means that we’ll finally be able to meet the growing transportation needs of the St. Croix River Valley and support continued economic development in the region.
“Thank you and congratulations to the local stakeholders; federal, state and local agencies; and private entities in the community that have worked so hard on this project. This bridge not only addresses the critical safety concerns of the region but also maintains the scenic and recreational value of the St. Croix Riverway. I’m proud to have supported the project for the last 16 years and am thrilled that we will be able to build the bridge that the citizens and communities need and deserve.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) released the following statement after voting against S.1134, the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act:
“I have consistently supported replacing the Stillwater Lift Bridge. However, the design the House of Representatives authorized today is both oversized and overpriced.Many bridges in our state need repair. 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.
“Minnesota has 1,400 neglected bridges statewide that need repair, including in the Fifth Congressional District. A right-sized St. Croix bridge would allow other communities to repair the bridges they need, creating good Minnesota jobs and preserving our state’s scenic river areas. By exempting the bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Congress is also setting a precedent that would justify building bridges over any of the country’s Wild and Scenic Rivers. I join Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and local and national environmental organizations in opposing this bill.
“I will continue to work for smart investments in Minnesota’s roads and bridges that create good jobs for our state.”
U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) issued the following statement:
“I commend my colleagues on both ends of the political spectrum for coming together to get this important bill through the House. There is much that divides us, but on this issue it was incredibly refreshing to work with Democrats and Republicans alike toward a common goal for both our region and our local economy. It’s unfortunate that this bridge required congressional action in the first place, but I’m thrilled to see that decades of work has not gone to waste.
“Rep. Kind and Rep. Baldwin both deserve immense amounts of credit for the work they put in on the Democrat side and I also must thank Senator Klobuchar for her tireless efforts in the Senate along with Senator Ron Johnson and all their colleagues who pushed for this bill to move. My colleagues on the Republican side have done so much to help, too and I thank Rep. Bachmann for her efforts to see this bill through to passage.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) issued the following statement:
“I’m gratified that the House of Representatives has given final approval to the St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act. After having passed the Senate with unanimous support, I am very hopeful that the President will sign this important legislation into law.
“This bill authorizes no additional federal funding. The state governments will take the lead in financing this initiative. The only question at this point is whether Washington will continue to prevent the states from acting to address this longstanding problem. I’m pleased that a broad majority of both the House and the Senate agree: it is time for the federal government to get out of the way.
"This legislation would not have passed without the leadership of Senator Amy Klobuchar and the help of Senators Al Franken and Herb Kohl. I’m also gratified that so many of my Wisconsin delegation colleagues in the House, led by Congressman Sean Duffy, supported this initiative."
Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) issued the following statement:
“I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for voting in favor of the St. Croix River Project today. After decades of work, this bill is now going to the president’s desk. This legislation was a top federal priority for my administration and is a great example of bipartisanship teamwork that will create thousands of jobs. The construction of this safer, better bridge will bring a welcome economic boost to the region. I thank Congressmen Sean Duffy and Ron Kind, as well as Senators Ron Johnson and Herb Kohl, along with the many others who worked on this legislation in Wisconsin and Minnesota including Governor Mark Dayton, for their diligence and persistence in bringing this legislation across the finish line.”
"I am delighted to see this important project move forward; this new bridge is urgently needed. The project will put thousands of people in the construction industry to work. "I am very grateful to the House Leadership for expediting the bill. Thank you to Congresswoman Bachmann, Senator Klobuchar, Governor Walker of Wisconsin Stillwater Mayor Harycki, and all of our partners on this project."
Wisconsin State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) issued the following statement:
"I am thrilled that the United States House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to approve the legislation allowing a new St. Croix River Crossing. The efforts of the broad, bipartisan work on this legislation among elected officials of the two states has been vindicated by the unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate and the 339-80 vote today in the U.S. House. I commend U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann for leading the effort, as well as both states’ U.S. Senators and members of Congress that worked to advance this bill.
"If this legislation is signed into law by President Obama, Wisconsin and Minnesota can finally begin construction on this vital transportation link. The residents of our region have waited decades to see this bridge project proceed to improve the safety of motorists, relieve traffic congestion, and ensure timely delivery of emergency services. I am pleased that another step has been taken towards authorizing the St. Croix River Crossing and am hopeful that the President will approve this legislation quickly."
Wisconsin State Assembly Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) issued the following statement:
"I'm delighted! I applaud the bipartisan spirit displayed in both the U.S. Senate and the House to move this project forward. Western Wisconsin desperately needs a modern crossing over the St. Croix River to replace the antiquated Stillwater Bridge. No other bridge project in the history of our nation has had a more thorough review. The construction jobs will be just a small portion of the economic benefit that will result in the creation thousands of jobs in coming years for our region. During my time as mayor of Hudson I dealt first hand with the traffic congestion, delays, and safety issues caused by the frequent closures of this outdated bridge. Since joining the Wisconsin legislature as state Representative for St. Croix County, this project has been a top priority. I couldn't be happier for the people of the St. Croix River valley, one of Wisconsin's most economically dynamic regions."
Daryl Standafer, chair of the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors issued the following statement:
After nearly 50 years of anticipation, the citizens of the St. Croix Valley are finally able to look forward to a New River Bridge across the St. Croix River to replace the historic but obsolete lift bridge between St. Croix County Wisconsin and Washington County Minnesota. Today, the United States House of Representatives approved the necessary Congressional exception to allow the bridge project to proceed.
This action follows unanimous approval in January by the United States Senate. On behalf of the citizens of St. Croix County, I express our thanks and appreciation not only to the primary author of the legislation, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, but also to her Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken, Sen.Kohl and Sen. Johnson. We are especially grateful to the leadership demonstrated in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Kind, Rep. Sean Duffy and Rep. Michele Bachmann.
In addition, we are very appreciative of the continuing support from the hundreds of concerned citizens who worked on this project. This is truly a milestone for our area, and a testament to the hard work of many people who had the vision and persistence to run the race to the end. Together, we can accomplish great things.
Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation issued the following statement:
“The vote in the House affirms St. Croix County’s important position within the 13-county metro area. Bridge supporters have said from the beginning that the proposed river crossing was a regional transportation project for the eastern portion of the Twin Cities and west central Wisconsin. The 2003-2006 environmental streamlining process recommended the most appropriate corridor for the crossing. Even though it was arduous at times, the streamlining process and stakeholders came together and produced a solution. The U.S. Senate and House followed suit.”
Alan Burchill, mayor of the city of Hudson, issued the following statement:
"The passage of the St. Croix River Crossing bill is giant plus for the City of Hudson and western Wisconsin. It will enable people to get to their destinations in a safe and timely manner. It also will save our downtown from uncontrolled congestion and loss of business. Thank you all of the people and organizations who worked to make this happen in a bipartisan manner."
Kim Heinemann, president of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau issued the following statement:
"Today's action by the United States House of Representatives is a huge victory for Wisconsin and Minnesota. This vote is the national recognition of decades of meetings, planning sessions, and compromise to find the right solution that benefits the entire region. Today's vote assures that the St. Croix River Crossing will move forward.
"We are fortunate to see our region's elected officials working together across party lines to fight for the needs of their constituents. We are especially thankful to Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Michele Bachmann, Ron Kind, and Sean Duffy for their hard work on behalf of the St. Croix River Valley. Governors Mark Dayton and Scott Walker have our deepest appreciation for their direct involvement with Congressional leaders.
"People in the St. Croix River Valley overwhelmingly support this project, and that support has become even more apparent in the last few days as people across the region called and e-mailed their representatives to urge them to pass this legislation. The people have been heard by Congress.
"We are excited and energized by today's vote, but we won't stop working until construction workers start building."
Editor's Note: This post is being updated as new reactions and statements are being gathered.
UPDATED From 4:23 a.m.
The proposed legislation granting the first-ever exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act needs a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
If the legislation is defeated, the bill could still come to a full House vote next week; or it could die, and it would be back to the drawing board.
The Usual Suspects
Last night’s debate brought forth the same arguments residents of the St. Croix River Valley have heard for years.
While everyone agrees the Stillwater Lift Bridge needs to be replaced, this proposal pits Representatives Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Gov. Mark Dayton, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), as well as Gov. Scott Walker and members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation.
Bachmann urged her colleagues to support a bill that would allow the construction of “one of the longest, if not the longest, unfinished bridge projects in the history of the United States.”
“If Representative McCollum gets her way, she will kill building the bridge over the St. Croix River,” Bachmann said. And if that happens, McCollum would be acting against the wishes of 86 percent of the people that live and reside in the St. Croix River Valley, she said.
“The responsibility for the increased costs of building this bridge rests squarely on the shoulders of Representative McCollum and on her compatriots who have fought for decades to kill the building of this bridge.”
But McCollum didn’t back down from her stance that S. 1134 is a controversial piece of legislation that shouldn’t be on the suspension calendar in the first place. The bill represents “wasteful government spending, bad transportation policy and bad environmental policy,” she said.
“The aging Stillwater Lift Bridge needs to be replaced – everyone agrees on that – but I support a more affordable and more appropriately-scaled replacement bridge,” McCollum said.
But she also argues that the bill is an earmark, violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and will result in a tax increase for the residents and business owners in Oak Park Heights.
A scaled-down bridge would allow other transportation projects across the state to move forward," McCollum said.
“Suspension is supposed to be noncontroversial,” he said. “We’re supposed to be here passing post offices, but we’re here dealing with, what is, absolutely a controversial piece of legislation on the suspension calendar with no chance to amend.”
Ellison urged his colleagues to vote against the bill because it would “soak up resources” that other people need.
“I am incredibly sensitive to the need to fix the state’s bridges, our nation’s bridges, which is why I’m against this project,” Ellison said. “This bridge is important. I feel for the folks and want them to have their bridge. I would support a sane, sensible bridge.”
Ellison said he hopes this bill is defeated on suspension and sent back through the committee process so “some sensible amendments” may be offered up.
“This is not a good use of taxpayer money,” he said
The bridge would have cost $80 million to complete in 1992 if McCollum’s “compatriots” wouldn't have tied this bridge project up for decades in the federal courts; “in nuisance lawsuits,” Bachmann said.
“Representative McCollum is suggesting that we should be building a two or a three-lane bridge,” Bachmann said. “Why would you build a bridge that would be obsolete the day that it's opened? You would build a commonsense four-lane bridge to connect two four-lane highways.”
Wisconsin Delegates Unite
While Minnesota’s congressional delegation sparred, the Wisconsin’s representatives showed a strong, bipartisan front in support of the project.
“I have been living and breathing this issue for the last 16 years, and Mr. Speaker, it is time to build the bridge,” Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said. “It’s unfortunate the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is being used to bludgeon a major infrastructure project that will create jobs in this region when we need them the most.”
After visiting the bridge last year and “listening to all sides of the argument,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said the legislation is necessary, reasonable and time-sensitive.
Rep. Rush Holt D-New Jersey) countered that is was a “bridge gone too far.” Should Congress exempt the project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, “it’s hard to imagine any future bridge that won’t receive a Congressional waiver like this.”
There’s very little that’s wild or scenic about the location, Kind said. That’s why the location was chosen.
Rep. Sean Duffy backed his Wisconsin counterparts while taking issue with McCollum’s claim that the river crossing is a bridge to nowhere.
“Houlton, Wisconsin may not have a stop sign,” McCollum said, “but today Congress could give it a $700 million bridge.”
If this is a project serving 380 people in Houlton, explain how 18,000 people cross that bridge every day, Duffy said.
“You are dealing with the largest growing county in Wisconsin and the 13th largest metropolitan area in the country,” Duffy said. “That’s what this bridge connects.”
The project has been talked about for decades, it is “shovel-ready,” and will create thousands of jobs, Duffy said.
“You have Vikings and Packers supporting this bill. This is a remarkable day,” he said. “We can’t find bipartisan support in the 15 months I’ve been here, but its here tonight on the House floor. This is a great bill. It gets the job done.”
‘Get it Done’
When asked how he was feeling the day before the project comes to a House vote, Stillwater Council Member Mike Polehna said he’s optimistic, and will be relieved one way or the other to have resolve.
“This has been debated for 60 years. Sixty years,” Polehna said. “Get it done already. This is a divisive issue in Stillwater and people are tired of it. Get it done, and let’s move on.”
Council Member Doug Menikheim said he’s an optimist; and he believes this project will move forward after all these years.
“We’ve done as much as we could,” he said. “We’ve worked hard and I will be comfortable with whatever the outcome might be
Mayor Ken Harycki said he's excited.
The governor’s deadline really got the ball rolling, he said. Bachmann and Klobuchar are “burning the midnight oil” and the laborers have really “been coming through for us” down the stretch.
This is a full-court press, Harycki said. Everyone is working really hard.
“This is what the people of Stillwater want,” Harycki said. “But they have bridge fatigue. They just want to get it done.
“I can’t wait for the vote to come out.”