WASHINGTON - A day before a crucial Senate hearing on a bill to authorize a new bridge over the St. Croix, Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced that $8 million in cuts needed to advance the project under congressional budget rules had been identified.
An Interior Department program to centralize administrative services will lose $8 million in unspent funds in order to make the St. Croix bridge bill deficit-neutral. The offset was needed because the 2005 highway bill contained an earmark directing money for preliminary work on the bridge.
The announcement likely paves the way for the bill's passage through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a markup hearing scheduled for Thursday. If the measure passes the committee, it will then proceed to the Senate floor. A similar House bill sponsored by Rep. Michele Bachmann also awaits a vote by the entire chamber.
"This is an important step in advancing this critical project," said Klobuchar in a statement.
If the bills, which have identical wording, pass both houses of Congress and are signed into law by President Obama, construction can begin on a four lane bridge over the St. Croix River south of the town of Stillwater. The new bridge would replace the aging lift bridge that goes through the town itself, causing significant traffic jams.
During a hearing in the U.S. House last month, some Democrats attacked the entire bridge authorization measure as "one giant earmark," in a nod toward Bachmann's sponsorship of the bill. Bachmann, who's also running for the GOP presidential nomination, has long argued that the federal government should be radically downsized.
The vast majority of the $690 million cost of a new bridge comes via the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation, in part using federal highway funds.
Sheesh, it seems like Mrs. Klobuchar is giving a big middle finger to the Interior Department and the National Park Service, which was responsible for blocking the bridge. She generally comes off as nice, but I guess she's just as capable of dirty politics as anyone else.
I'm really not in favor of the bridge in its planned configuration -- It'd take about $500 million to replace/repair all of the structurally deficient bridges in the state, and this project would cover that bill with $190 million to spare.
Stillwater would be much better off with a more low-slung bridge that was more or less a direct replacement for what currently exists. The new bridge as currently planned would extend from where MN-36 currently descends the bluff, completely bypassing their downtown and sucking away a lot of business.
Allowing people to drive fast also causes them to miss what's happening around them. Slow traffic, like what currently exists, encourages more people to stop and linger, often spending money in the process.
As Senator Klobuchar says, this is a critical project. If we don't build the billion dollar bridge, all economic activity in St Croix county will cease and it will revert to, um, farmland.