A Better Stillwater Bridge Solution

Map of the St. Croix River watershed.

St. Croix River Watershd

The race to build a $700 million bridge across the St. Croix River south of Stillwater, MN, not only requires an exception to federal law, it also requires an exception to common sense.

The current Stillwater Lift Bridge existed when the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968.  The law is intended to protect designated rivers from activity that would substantially degrade any further.  We can respect the tenor of that law and replace the Stillwater Lift Bridge.  The current plan, however, ignores the better solution and offers a much larger, much more costly bridge instead.  If we are going to circumvent federal law and its intent, isn’t it more reasonable to do so with at least some respect to the intent of the law…or do we choose not to care because doing so conflicts with today’s economic and political interests, regardless of how misguided and hypocritical those interests are?

The proposed super highway bridge is not cheap.  At nearly $700 million it will cost almost three times the cost to replace the collapsed 35W bridge in Minneapolis.  Meanwhile, it should be pointed out, plenty of deteriorating infrastructure exists, serving millions more people in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, would benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of government investment.   (Representative Michele Bachmann, self-proclaimed Tea Party caucus leader, supports this investment in her district, but opposes what she calls pork barrel otherwise.)

 The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed specifically to protect limited natural resources from economic and political interests.  Legislation like the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act anticipates the sort of proposal that is now promoted to replace the existing Stillwater bridge.  If we start overriding the law whenever it becomes an inconvenience to current political or economic priorities, what is the point of the law?

The proposed bridge is a large, multi-lane bluff-to-bluff interstate style bridge.  The existing Stillwater bridge is a simple two lane bridge.  The potential environmental impact of the larger bridge dramatically exceeds the impact of the current bridge.  Keep in mind that protecting a river involves more than protecting the main channel of the river.  A river is a watershed, and what happens many miles from the river has impact.

A river is water resource with value far beyond its scenic and recreational value, and it is very important to remember it is a limited resource.  As such, rivers require special attention and protection.

A Better Compromise Plan

The very nature of a river shed requires management over a very large geographical region.  A bridge that enables more sprawling development only multiples the threats a river will face.  Opening yet another major river crossing — we already have a large multi-lane bridge crossing the St. Croix River at Hudson, WI, just south of Stillwater  — only adds another layer of threat.

The better solution for replacing the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge is one that respects the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act while maintaining the necessary service a bridge in the Stillwater area provides.  Options have been proposed that serve that need and cost significantly less that the current plan.

A bridge that uses the current route on Wisconsin 64 into Stillwater, but traverses the river south of the existing bridge to merge with the Minnesota Highway 36, is a smart choice.  It can replace the aging and inefficient lift bridge and be designed for better and increased traffic flow without the expense and size of the proposed bluff-to-bluff design.  Justifying a larger bridge when this more appropriate option exists makes no sense.

Currently supporters of the larger, more costly proposal are in a rush to push their plan through Congress.  Slowing down and reviewing the motivation behind this rush is the responsible first step.  Especially in an era when austerity is the rage, ensuring that we pursue the right priorities with the best plans should be respected.

We can meet the needs for a replacement bridge in Stillwater and do it at a much lower cost than what is proposed.  It is ironic that budget cutters like Bachmann and Scott Walker would blindly advocate such an unbalanced and costly proposal.  (Eye brow-raising, too, perhaps.)

Slowing down and doing the right thing is in the best interest of everyone.

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4 thoughts on “A Better Stillwater Bridge Solution

  1. Mike Zipko

    You are very much entitled to your own views and opinions. What you are not allowed to do is create your own facts. The “Sensible Bridge” concept would require the same Congressional action to allow it to be built. It not only violates the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the sensible concept also violates section 4(f) of the Transportation Act of 1966 and section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

    The “sensible” concept also does not include ANY stormwater management strategies that are needed to protect the river.

    Finally, the greatest benefit touted by advocates of the three-lane bridge is the cost savings. This too is false. Please review the MnDOT review of the project. Basic inflation over the years it would take to complete thorough environmental review of the plan would increase the total cost to close to what is budgeted for the proposed project.


    It’s beyond ironic to advocate for spending almost the same amount of money for a smaller bridge that does not address stormwater issues and does not create a four-lane connection between two four-lane roads.

    I can understand the different points of view related to development, land use and other issues related to the bridge. The facts, however, are different.

  2. Tour Guide Post author

    I don’t disagree that the better bridge would also require an exception to the law, but if we are going to violate federal law we might as well respect the tenor of the law. We also agree that a new bridge is a good idea in Stillwater. But a new bridge does not need to be a multi-lane freeway style bridge…does it? Are we looking for a new bridge or a regional change? The Scenic River act is intended to preserve the value of river, region, and natural resources. Circumventing the wisdom and intent of that purpose is troublesome. Why go to the effort to protect our resources if we will disregard them as a matter of convenience? The current new bridge proposal is a lazy and politically motivated solution to a relatively small problem.

  3. Pingback: St. Croix River Bridge Plan Is A Mistake « A Little Tour in Yellow

  4. Pingback: Bridge to somewhere | Bell Book Candle

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