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Obama Signs St. Croix River Crossing Project Authorization Act

“After thirty years of debate and delay, we finally got it done,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar says.

It's official.

President Barack Obama today signed the bill exempting the St. Croix River Crossing from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“After thirty years of debate and delay, we finally got it done,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said in a statement.

“This 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.”

“Today the St. Croix River Crossing Project was given a green light to proceed,”Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said in a statement. “Finally, construction can officially begin on this common sense four-lane bridge project. I commend the President for signing this important piece of legislation."

The Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing released a statement thanking the elected officials and community members for decades of their time and effort.

“It is a national recognition of the consensus achieved by decades of hard work by St. Croix River Valley residents,” a statement from the Coalition reads. “Thank you to all of the people who have poured years of their life into this project, studying dozens of plans, developing the best bridge for the region, and campaigning tirelessly for the future of the St. Croix River Valley. Your hard work and dedication kept this project alive in the face of unprecedented obstacles."

Now that the bill is law, MnDOT said within days RFP bids will be put out for design work.

MnDOT is the lead agency on the project and is coordinating with WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. MnDOT will utilize the design-bid-build approach for the project.

The construction will be broken into three projects: the Wisconsin approach, the bridge and the Minnesota approach.

“Today we celebrate an important victory,” Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) said in a statement.

“After decades of work and the dedication of local stakeholders, agencies, and private entities, we can finally get to work constructing the much needed St. Croix River Crossing Project. Not only will the new bridge address local safety and transportation concerns but it will create thousands of jobs in the short-term and foster continued economic development in a very dynamic and fast growing region."

Soil Tests Will Begin This Summer

St. Croix River Valley residents can expect to see some , MnDOT officials said Tuesday.

After announcing the project management team, MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel said load tests will begin this summer to verify bridge-design concepts.

Explosives will not be used, St. Croix River Crossing Project Manager Jon Chiglo said, but crews will drive steel shafts into the riverbed in the location of the piers, applying pressure to verify different designs suitable for the types of soil in the riverbed.

During the load-testing process there may be a limited impact to recreational boaters, Chiglo said. Once construction begins in 2014, boat travel may be restricted below the structure from time to time.

Along with the start of construction, there will also be an element of managing the public’s expectations for the project, Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said.

“The public is going to see a flurry of activity this summer with the construction of test pilings,” Harycki said. “There could be anywhere from 25-50 crew members working on the project this summer and people will see a structure coming out of the water.”

But that structure will then be pulled from the river and the load-testing equipment will be packed up.

“If they pack it up and nothing happens in 2013, the public is going to wonder what is going on, so it’s going to be important to keep people in the loop on what is going on with the plans,” Harycki said. “I think they will be working on mitigation items in 2013, so there will be some activity on the riverfront.”

A ‘Legacy’ Project

During an open house on Tuesday morning, Sorel made it clear that the St. Croix River Crossing is more than a “legacy” bridge—it’s a “community project.”

The open house, Sorel said, represents a shift in the project from the political arena to the project-delivery arena.

“This is a transition date for us,” Sorel said. “It’s something we’re very excited about.”

Sorel said the project will be under heavy scrutiny by the public, but he guaranteed that MnDOT will listen to and work with the community every step of the way.

“This project went all the way to the White House … and we will respect that scrutiny,” Sorel said. “We will build this project to be a successful project. Failure is not an option.”

The project is estimated to cost between $571 million and $676 million and once underway will take about three years to complete.

Bike and Pedestrian Trails

The bridge will be the showcase piece of the project, but the plan also includes bike and pedestrian trails and measures to protect historic, environmental and cultural aspects of the St. Croix River Valley, Sorel said.

Funding for building the Loop Trail falls under the project’s Mitigation Package, according to MnDOT. Other trail construction costs fall under other bicycle and pedestrian accommodations agreed to during the stakeholder process.

The maintenance of Loop Trail in Minnesota will be the responsibility of the city of Stillwater.

The maintenance of other trails in Minnesota is proposed to fall under MnDOT’s control, but the department has requested that the city of Oak Park Heights take over maintenance responsibilities for those trails.

Where the maintenance cost for trails in Wisconsin falls has yet to be determined by WisDOT.

Click here for more information on the Loop Trails and other Trails. Maps and other information about the trails are found about a quarter of the way down the page.

The Oak Park Heights Factor

Now that Obama has signed the St. Croix River Crossing legislation, MnDOT can move forward with design bids and riverbed testing.

But MnDOT will also have to come to an agreement with Oak Park Heights to acquire the right of way and satisfy the cost impact of utility relocation.

MnDOT officials said they are currently in talks with the city of Oak Park Heights regarding right of way, utility relocation and the cost impact to the city.

“That’s a lengthy process—and in all of our projects across the state—we have a process we follow,” Chiglo said. “We have time to work on those issues with the city of Oak Park Heights over the next 6-12 months—and I’m confident we can get that resolved.

“This whole issue is very complex and there’s a lot of legal pieces we are trying to work through,” he continued. “We will continue to work with Oak Park Heights and continue to make sure that as we build this bridge, the needs of Oak Park Heights will be met.”

Elected Officials React

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker released the following statement regarding the president's approval:

"The St. Croix River Crossing is a great example of what happens when everyone puts their differences aside, focuses on the needed end result and works together to successfully get something done.  And Wisconsin is better off for it.  We can now begin the process of constructing this bridge, a project that will bring thousands of jobs to our region and provide a safer route between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This is a great day for Wisconsin."

Bachmann's full statement reads:

“Today the St. Croix River Crossing Project was given a green light to proceed. Finally, construction can officially begin on this common sense four-lane bridge project. I commend the President for signing this important piece of legislation. I also extend my sincere gratitude to my colleagues in the Senate and the House including Senators Klobuchar (MN), Franken (MN), Johnson (WI) and Kohl (WI) and Representatives Kind (WI-03), Duffy (WI-07), Cravaack (MN-08) and Baldwin (WI-02).

“I have personally been involved with the St. Croix River Crossing project proposal for decades, including while I was a member of the Minnesota State Senate. It finally took Congressional action to allow this project to proceed because of years of frivolous lawsuits and bureaucratic holdups, but I’m pleased we could deliver. This legislation does not appropriate a dime; rather it allows a project supported by both states’ Departments of Transportation and the majority of local residents to proceed.

“I intend to continue providing updates on this project. My constituents can rest assured; they will finally have a new St. Croix River Crossing.”

Sen. Al Franken released the following statement:

“After nearly 30 years of deliberation, today we can officially say that the people of the St. Croix Valley are going to get a new bridge. This is a huge victory that wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership of so many dedicated people. My thanks to the President for signing Senator Klobuchar and Congresswoman Bachmann’s bill into law today. Today’s action will not only begin the process of building the new bridge, but also create thousands of jobs and deal with the serious traffic problems that were hurting businesses and tourism in the Stillwater area.”

Carbon Bigfuut March 16, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Well said, CB.
Bradley Johnson March 16, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Randy, you can drop the $700 million exaggeration now. The real cost of the river crossing is likely to come in at as little as $570 million. Why don't you turn your energies toward seeing that the $130 million difference gets steered toward all of the life-saving repair projects in Minnesota and Wisconsin that you continually bring up?
Jim March 16, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Susan, the Wild and Scenic Rivers act is very specific as to the type of waterway included in the act. The only form of lake included in the act is a "Small" lake. Is a 7,800 acre lake a small lake? The name of the act includes "River", NOT lake and is why only small lakes are included in definitions in the act. So what Congress enacted and President Obama signed into law allows a bridge to be constructed over a "Wild and Scenic River", by definition that would be North of Stillwater. South of Stillwater IS NOT a Wild and Scenic River but instead a Large Lake named Lake Saint Croix, as defined by the Minnesota DNR. Rules for constructing a bridge over a lake are much different than over a river as the water is NOT constantly refreshed and therefore more not self flushing like a lake.
Jim Bob March 16, 2012 at 05:41 PM
There is a sewage plant on the Stillwater side of the bridge. I believe it has a lagoon. Does that count as a lake?
Jim Bob March 16, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Being a tree hugger for a new bridge, I have been opposed to the legislative alerting of the W&SR Act to allow this birdge to be built. Keeping the old bridge after the new bridge is built has been the sand in the Vaseline of this issue for years. If the decision to take down the old bridge after the new bridge was built was the plan, the new bridge would have been up and running years ago. I am opposed to using my Wisconsin tax dollars to maintain the old bridge for a walking path that must be a fully operational lift bridge. However, I will embrace change and learn to live with it, since I cross the bridge twice a day to work. However, the decision to bridge a new bridge helps me in my retirement planning. I am planning to retire the day before the new bridge opens...or the day after the Sun burns out...which ever comes first.

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