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Proposed St. Croix River Crossing gets important U.S. House approval

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 339-80 on Thursday morning to exempt the proposed new St. Croix River Crossing project from the restrictions of the Federal Wild & Scenic Riverway Act.

The action paves the way for eventual construction of a new four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River at Stillwater, Minn. and Houlton, Wis. The new span will replace the 80-year-old Stillwater lift bridge, which has been deemed obsolete and functionally inadequate for years.

The one remaining step in the federal process is a signature from President Barack Obama.

According to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), bridge backers expect the president to sign the bill, which was approved unanimously in the U.S. Senate and supported by more tyhan 80 percent of U.S. representatives.

In a conference call at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Kind congratulated those who have worked hard to ensure that the bridge project takes place.

"Good news out of Washington today," Kind opened his call. "Let's build a bridge."

Kind said one of the first meetings he attended after being elected to Congress 16 years ago was related to the Stillwater bridge issue. He said most in the region backed the project then, and the majority still do.

Kind said the stakeholders' organization that met for five years hammered out the best alternative for a new bridge. The plan takes into account the environmental impact on the federally-protected St. Croix River and will meet the needs of one of the fastest-growing areas of the nation, he added.

He said the bridge will not only help improve transportation efficiency and safety in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota, the project will also bring thousands of jobs to the local economy. Kind estimated that as many as 6,000 people will be employed as the bridge project gets underway. Other estimates have upwards of 15,000 people employed as a result of the bridge project.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued a statement following the morning's approval.

"I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for voting in favor of the St. Croix River Project today," he said. "After decades of work, this bill is now going to the president's desk. This legislation was a top federal priority for my administration and is a great example of bipartisanship teamwork that will create thousands of jobs."

He said the construction of the bridge "will bring a welcome economic boost to the region."

"I thank Congressmen Sean Duffy and Ron Kind, as well as Senators Ron Johnson and Herb Kohl, along with the many others who worked on this legislation in Wisconsin and Minnesota including Governor Mark Dayton, for their diligence and persistence in bringing this legislation across the finish line," he said.

Craig Obey, senior vice president for government affairs with the National Parks Conservation Association, issued a statement expressing his organization's disappointment over the vote.

We are saddened that two states renowned for their history and legacy of foresight in protecting a tremendous natural bounty, which produced leaders who helped enact laws like the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that protected the St. Croix, have now led the way in undercutting that law," he stated. "A replacement bridge is needed, but not this bridge. Not this way."