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Bridge backers issue dueling letters

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisconsin's Third District) sent a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker asking him to invest in transportation projects in the state and specifically support the St. Croix River Crossing Project.

"As your administration reviews the urgent transportation needs of our state, I write requesting that you immediately address the future of the Stillwater Lift Bridge and the St. Croix River Crossing Project," Kind wrote. "The 80 year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge is functionally deficient, in need of substantial investment to simply maintain its operation, is the site of substantial congestion and safety hazards, and limits the ability of the region to attract jobs and tourism."

Last year, the National Park Service declared the project would substantially impact the scenic and recreational value of the St. Croix River and could not be made compliant with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

This ruling came after years of work by federal, state and local stakeholders (including the National Park Service) to reach a consensus on the project. Now, for this project to move forward, Congress would need to pass legislation that would allow for the construction of the St. Croix River Project.

Kind said Walker's decision to put an end to the federally-funded high speed rail project could be an indication that the Republican governor may not provide enough money for important infrastructure projects across the state.

"Western Wisconsin is in dire need of real long-term transportation solutions," he said. "High speed rail would have provided a viable alternate mode of transportation to travel into the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area and help ease the congestion on both the Stillwater Bridge and Interstate 94. Since the state has refused federal funding to extend high speed rail from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, it is absolutely vital that your administration puts forward a realistic transportation plan that addresses our aging infrastructure and increasing congestion."

A few hours after Kind released his letter, Wisconsin State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Wisconsin State Representatives John Murtha (R-Baldwin), Erik Severson (R-Star Prairie), and Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) issued a letter to Kind addressing the St. Croix River Crossing Project.

"We are writing to express our disappointment in your recent letter to Governor Scott Walker in which you articulate the issues and challenges with the St. Croix River Crossing Project," they wrote. "As part of the broad, bi-partisan, multi-state coalition of stakeholders and legislators who have been working hard to get the bridge project moving again, we welcome your support for the project. However, when you connect the St. Croix River Crossing Project to the Milwaukee to Madison rail project, we are concerned with your level of understanding of the infrastructure needs of our region."

The state legislators wrote the St. Croix River Crossing Project is an "urgent and immediate need for the people of Western Wisconsin" but the proposed rail line would not address the region's transportation needs.

"Your attempt to slight the Governor by trying to connect the two projects is counterproductive in the face of the bi-partisan efforts to get approval for the St. Croix River Crossing Project that have been going on for years," the letter states.

Because congressional action is now required to move the bridge project forward, the legislators called on Kind to lead the way.

"As a member of Congress, you are in a perfect position to get this critical project moving again," they wrote. "We look forward to working with you and your colleagues to obtain the necessary exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act."