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Gateway commissioners see connection between Woodbury, Stillwater bridge

The Stillwater bridge may be well north of Interstate 94, but members of a key transportation group argued Thursday that the outcome of efforts to replace the structure will affect motorists in Woodbury.

Gateway commissioners learned at the meeting that I-94 traffic in Woodbury would see a significant rise in congestion by 2030 without a new Stillwater bridge, according to a Minnesota Department of Transportation study. Traffic would be over or at capacity all the way to Hudson, according to MnDOT.

"It is a regional issue," said Gary Kriesel, a Washington County commissioner who serves on the Gateway Corridor Commission, which met Thursday at City Hall. "It affects Woodbury."

Gateway Corridor commissioners addressed the Stillwater bridge issue during discussion over whether the body should issue a statement supporting efforts to construct a new crossing at the St. Croix River.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann cast the issue back into the spotlight earlier this month after offering a House bill calling for a four-lane bridge over the river in the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River area.

The bill, backed by U.S. Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, does not include a price tag.

"Congresswoman Bachmann needs all the help she can get and build," Kriesel said Thursday.

Gateway commissioners decided to consider a resolution supporting the project in general terms. The proposed resolution, which commissioners agreed should recognize the Stillwater bridge as a regional issue, will be taken up at next month's meeting.

Rachel Horn, a Bachmann outreach coordinator, told commission members that a statement of general support - rather than one backing a particular bridge design - would be the best option.

"(Bachmann) knows that these kinds of directives that come from Washington can really hamstring a community," Horn said.

Whether - and how - to construct a new crossing at Stillwater has long been an issue surrounding the project, which looks to relieve congestion on Highway 36 in downtown Stillwater. Laws governing the area's National Wild and Scenic River designation have further complicated the issue.

According to MnDOT, the latest cost estimate for a new St. Croix River crossing is more than $633 million.

Washington County District 5 Commissioner Lisa Weik, who chairs the Gateway panel, said she met recently with Bachmann and offered her support.

"I know she's got a tough fight," Weik said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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