An online petition urging officials not to obliterate a special site along the St. Croix River has received overwhelming support. Osceola resident Tyler Norenberg started the signature campaign to convince the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation to pick an option for bridge alignment that protects Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen.
The two states are currently working out the details of a replacement bridge that is scheduled to be built in 2025.
In the latest round of planning and public comment, the agencies included an option that would result in shifting Highway 243, between downtown Osceola and the St. Croix River, to the north. This would encroach on the village’s signature waterfall and the gorge below.
The alignment would require removing an earthen berm that currently sits between the highway and the falls area. It would also either require a 10-foot retaining wall, or using fill to create a slope that would obliterate the existing canyon.
The other alignment would shift the highway south, which would require cutting into the bluff, but would not disturb the falls or natural area. Both alignments are intended to allow the new bridge to be built while the old one is still in use, reducing the impact on travelers. The roadway must also be widened from its current corridor to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian trail that is being considered for the bridge.
A third option still under consideration is using the current alignment, which would result in an extended closure.
“The South Alignment option is the only logical choice for the new MN243 bridge to save the vital natural ecosystem of Cascade Falls and the Wilke Glen and preserve the [number one] reason why people come to visit Osceola,” Norenberg’s petition reads.
While petition signatures were recently sent to the transportation agencies, Norenberg urged people to keep sharing and signing. View the petition here.
The Osceola Sun reports that officials are aware of the opposition to the north alignment, and that no decisions have been made yet.
“We welcome and understand the petitioners concerns,” Dmitry Tomasevich with MnDOT told the Sun. “It is important for the public to know that nothing is final at this point since the evaluation process is continuing. MnDOT and WisDOT are still reviewing three possible alternatives for the Hwy 243/Osceola Bridge replacement design.”
The planning process started out with eight possibilities, from not doing anything and leaving the existing bridge to replacing it with a tunnel. The graphics and descriptions below are provided by MnDOT on the project website.
Concept B includes removing the existing Hwy 243 Bridge and constructing a new bridge and approach roadways along the existing alignment.
Concept C includes constructing a new bridge parallel to the existing Hwy 243 bridge. The new bridge would be built to the north of the existing bridge. The existing Hwy 243 Bridge would be removed following construction of the new bridge.
Concept D includes constructing a new bridge crossing parallel to the existing Hwy 243 bridge. The new bridge would be built to the south of the existing bridge. The existing Hwy 243 Bridge would be removed following construction of the new bridge.
In the first phase of public input in 2021, the planners received 92 public comments, a majority in favor of adding a pedestrian trail. The process allowed them to discard five options, leaving the current three for more consideration.