After decades of planning and legal wrangling, a major bridge project in western Wisconsin was approved in 2012.
The River Crossing will be four lanes wide, towering 200 feet above the St. Croix River. It will connect Oak Park Heights, Minnesota and St. Joseph, Wisconsin and will replace an 80-year-old lift bridge often under repair.
But because the St. Croix is a federally-protected river, any new structures are prohibited. This and two lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club had kept the bridge in the design phase for more than 20 years. But this year Congress gave approval for the project and construction is set to begin this year.
“It really capped years and years, decades of activity, not only from a local government standpoint and citizen involvement standpoint and citizen involvement standpoint but in terms of the anticipation of completing the project," says Daryl Standafer, the St. Croix County Board Chair.
Standafer says the exemption was met with relief among bridge supporters who he says were frustrated with deadlock and suffering from bridge fatigue. And with its passage, Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says the bridge bill showed political bipartisanship is possible.
“It was a refreshing change given how polarized and how hyper-partisan everything has gotten in Washington but I think it was a real tribute to the local officials, the local people involved in that,” he says.
But not all parties were happy the St. Croix River Crossing got the green light in 2012. The North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club still opposes it.
Members didn’t respond to calls for an interview but the group has said it’s still weighing it’s options and hasn’t ruled out further legal action.