A coalition of businesses, individuals and groups unveiled a proposal for a new Stillwater bridge today to compete with the freeway-style design advocated for by Representative Michele Bachmann and other politicians in recent months.
The Sensible Stillwater Bridge coalition says its design would cost $407 million less than the $690 million predicted for the larger bridge that is currently awaiting a Congressional exemption from the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. It would angle across the river from Oak Park Heights to the current route up the bluff on the Wisconsin side.
The new coalition announced its proposal with a press release and press conference today. According to the release (PDF), the new design would help ensure visitors keep coming to Stillwater, while not harming the area with noise and excessive traffic:
As conceived by St. Croix Valley architects Tod Drescher, Beth Diem and Roger Tomten, the Sensible Stillwater Bridge plan utilizes a new lower and slower, three-lane bridge would cross the river diagonally, connecting Minnesota Highway 95 just south of downtown Stillwater to Wisconsin Highway 64 just east of the causeway approach to the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
Vehicle speeds on the Sensible Stillwater Bridge would be limited to 40 miles per hour, dramatically reducing noise and vibrations in the river valley, as compared to that generated by the proposed freeway-style bridge on which vehicles will travel 65 miles per hour. Travel on the Sensible Stillwater Bridge’s third lane would be managed by sophisticated traffic management technologies similar to those used by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to accommodate peak traffic demands on I-394’s MnPass lane.
The Sensible Stillwater Bridge would be as long as the proposed freeway-style bridge, but two-thirds as wide. At 60 feet from river surface to roadway deck, the Sensible Stillwater Bridge would set about 100 feet lower than the mega-bridge, but high enough to accommodate Stillwater riverboats and other tall vessels. In addition, the Stillwater Lift Bridge would be refurbished and dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle use.
This seems like a good option to me. It acknowledges the need for a new bridge, while stepping back from the biggest-and-fastest proposal advanced by the St. Croix Crossing Coalition. It would also reduce the chance for a potentially unsustainable population explosion in western Wisconsin.
That said, there is a lot more to the St. Croix River than the bridge debate. Stay tuned for more details, but don’t expect this issue to ever dominate St. Croix 360!
Michael Wilhelmi says
I’m the Executive Director of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.
The “alternative” bridge presented today is not new. It was reviewed during the three-year community stakeholder process that selected the St. Croix River Crossing.The downtown Stillwater bridge location was rejected by the US Coast Guard, the MN and WI DNR, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service. There is no way to build it without doing massive damage to the bluffs on either riverbank. It probably violates the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It is definitely an affront to the National Historic Preservation Act, as it would cut through the heart of the Stillwater downtown historic district. Also, we believe advocates are wildly underestimating the cost of the project. When it was reviewed the first time, it was more expensive than the final design chosen.The St. Croix River Crossing is a four-lane bridge built to connect two four-lane roads. It is the only bridge that can be built within the next five years. It makes more sense to build the bridge near the power plant and sewage treatment plant — and not through the heart of the downtown Stillwater Historic District.
Michael – Thanks for the comment. I am honestly somewhat ambivalent about this thing, and like I said, don’t have interest in devoting a lot of my time or energy to rehashing the same old arguments. I can’t help raising a few points, though:
1) You say the new proposal was already rejected by various government agencies. Your organization’s proposal was also rejected by at least the NPS.
2) You say the new proposal violates the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Isn’t it necessary for your proposal to get an exemption from the Act via Congressional action to proceed?
It doesn’t seem wise to criticize this new proposal for reasons that exactly match criticisms of yours.
3) The new coalition says their proposal would be cheaper and could be built in the same timeframe. Short of just calling them liars, can you provide data backing up your assertion that it would cost more than they say it would, or would take longer?
4) How does this new proposal go through the “heart of downtown Stillwater?” The maps are not perfectly clear, but I see it starting quite a ways south of downtown, and angling across the river.
5) Was a three-lane bridge using the new MnDOT technology to regulate traffic direction evaluated by stakeholders? I honestly don’t know, or if you are speaking in generalities about the route/height/speed of this bridge. Because if that technology wasn’t on the table during stakeholder evaluation, you can’t say this one was already “evaluated and rejected.”
Your proposal might win out. It might not be the end of Stillwater or the St. Croix. You owe it to the community to offer some factual responses with sources to back up your statements.
This is a better idea. But why doesn’t the tunnel idea go forward as a viable option?
Regardless the size of the bridge, I shutter to think of the automobile/ truck waste that will end up in that beautiful river.
Ben Van Sant says
The new bridge plan seems sensible for a time gone by, it looks great, but the highway bridge proposal is the better option here and now. I hope this new plan does not further delay the conclusion of the “As the Bridge Construction Is Debated” Saga.
Ben Van Sant
Marine on St. Croix