WASHINGTON - Long-delayed legislation to authorize a new, highway-style bridge to take the place of an aging river crossing in Stillwater could receive a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as soon as Wednesday.
House Republican leaders placed the bill on the legislative calendar Monday evening, just days after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton told bill sponsor Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann the House had until March 15 to pass the bridge bill, or he would have to redirect Minnesota's state funding.
"My constituents are eager for a new crossing to be built," said Bachmann in a statement. "This project has gone unfinished for far too long."
Ironically for Bachmann, the congressional district she represents will no longer include Stillwater when voters go to the polls in November. Instead, the bridge's biggest opponent, DFL Rep. Betty McCollum, will represent the area.
An identical version the bill, which exempts the planned bridge from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act protecting the St. Croix, was approved by the Senate last month. That means the legislation could arrive on President Obama's desk for signature before the end of the week if the House gives its approval.
Republican leaders appear confident the measure will pass: they're considering it under special rules requiring a two-thirds majority for passage that are traditionally reserved for non-controversial legislation. Still, opposition from McCollum has slowed the process.
While McCollum initially cast her opposition to a new bridge in terms of the impact on traffic in the region and concerns about setting a precedent for bypassing the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, lately she's been criticizing the project's nearly $700 million price tag in an effort to woo fiscal conservatives.
In a letter sent to House colleagues Monday night urging them to vote no on the bill, McCollum called the bridge "a monument to government waste." Her office is also circulating a letter written by former Vice President Walter Mondale, who sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act when he served in the Senate, in which he calls the proposed bridge "a profound mistake."
I would not be surprised to see the bridge to nowhere passed by congress. It would be a travesty and monumental waste of taxpayer's money. But, there are so many politicals that really do not care about their constituents once they are elected. Minnesotans are one of the most over-taxed people in this country. Because the state was on the verge of going broke, Governor Dayton and the republicans took away our property tax refunds and most of the dems in the state went along with it. I feel a $700,000,000.00 bridge between Stillwater and Holton is insane especially with a real freeway bridge 5 miles south. Do you realize the I 35 bridge was built for less than one third of what this bridge is going to cost? All of this for Wisconsin commuters to come to their Minnesota jobs.
Check the facts. Almost 30 stakeholders, including environmentalists, met over a 3-year period in meetings led by a facilitator. The process was created by the Udall Foundation. The process resulted in a federal "Record of Decision" which is needed for major infrastructure projects. The feds created the problem with the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and only Congress can pass an Exemption to the act. The project is just over 7 miles long, and does not solely consist of a bridge. Major intersections in Oak Park Heights and Stillwater are upgraded and millions will be spent on remediation. Folks have been led to believe the bridge is $700 million. MnDOT estimates $100 million of the costs are for risk & contingency.
There are facts and there is spin. MNDOT did use mediation but it sand-bagged the process by making several important decisions two years before mediation began that seriously limited the options that could be considered. In addition, the stakeholders could not agree on which alternatives should be considered in environmental review and MNDOT decided for them. It is not surprising that Sierra Club's proposed alternative was not included and that the proposal by Three Architects was pumped so full of steroids that they repudiated it. So much for handing hands and singing 'Kumbaya'! In effect, the stakeholders weren't asked what would be the best bridge, they were asked only what would be the best big bridge. And for the record, these facts are based on my own experience in the mediation..
I am disappointed that Rep. McCollum will not be supporting a desperately needed new bridge. This is not a question of party affiliation, this is a matter of reducing congestion and providing a safe river crossing. Downtown Stillwater businesses are hurt by congestion because it prevents locals from shopping there. In addition to this, people need to understand that I-94 is not an alternative route. I-94 provides East-West traffic, and MN-36/WI-64 provide the Northwest route out of the twin cities. Stillwater residents have been waiting for a new bridge for over 40 years.
Kudos to Rep. McCollum for opposing this environmentally destructive boondoggle.