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Stillwater bridge bill moves on to U.S. Senate floor

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today (Thursday) overwhelmingly approved a bill, sponsored by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's, that would allow the new St. Croix River Crossing at Stillwater to be constructed.

The day's approval, with just two of the 22 committee members voting against it, means the measure will now head to the U.S. Senate floor for consideration. An identical bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, is pending on the House floor.

"This is an important step in advancing this critical project so that residents and businesses in Stillwater and the St. Croix River Valley can finally have a safe, more efficient alternative to the 80-year-old lift bridge," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "I will continue to work closely with my colleagues in the Senate and House to move this legislation forward in a timely manner."

Klobuchar was joined on the bill by Sens. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. In the House, supporters include Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.; Ron Kind, D-Wis.; Chip Cravaack, R-Minn.; and Sean Duffy, R-Wis.

Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, a Democrat, support the measure.

However, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., has been a vocal critic of bridge plan. Also, 30 Wisconsin and Minnesota state legislators this week wrote a letter opposing the bridge.

Another proposal is for a three-lane bridge that would cost less. However, Klobuchar said, that bridge would take decades more to build and need to do through lengthy federal hearings.

The debate over the bridge has dragged on for decades. The apparent approach of its ultimate construction has many backers wondering if the span will finally get constructed this time.

The Coaltion for the St. Croix River Crossing issued a statement immediately following the committee's passage of the bill.

"After 25 years of discussion and debate, we have never been closer to building a new crossing to replace our 80-year-old, fracture-critical, functionally obsolete bridge," the statement read. "We know we have the right project because all other alternatives have been reviewed and rejected.

"No more delays. It's time to build the bridge."

The bridge, which is estimated to cost between $574 million and $690 million, would provide a four-lane span that would open up commuter access between western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities metro area.

Yesterday, Klobuchar announced that the financial package for the bridge was close to being finalized. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have money set aside for the project, and Klobuchar noted that she has secured an "offset" for the project. The offset was included in today's committee action thanks to an approved amendment.

The legislation will be paid for by rescinding funds from the Interior Franchise Fund, which is used by the Department of Interior to cover the costs of centralizing various administrative services such as acquisitions, consulting and performance management, Klobuchar said.

The current St. Croix River crossing is at the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge. As the bridge has aged, closings for structural and vehicle collision repairs and maintenance inspections have increased. In addition, the bridge's unique function as a lift bridge, which lifts frequently to allow boats to travel the St. Croix River, is a source of severe traffic congestion.