Rich Kremer / WPR News
Lawmakers from Wisconsin and Minnesota broke ground Tuesday on a $600 million bridge project that will span the St. Croix River.
There was plenty of pomp in Stillwater, Minn., Tuesday as congressional delegations, state lawmakers and more than 100 supporters of the St. Croix River Crossing watched the groundbreaking for the new megaproject. It will link St. Joseph, Wisc., and Oak Park Heights, Minn., and replace an 80-year-old, two-lane lift bridge that's often closed for repairs and flooding. The project had been planned for decades, but because the St. Croix is federally protected, Congress had to pass an exemption for the bridge. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), who played a lead role in getting the exemption, says the bridge will have a positive economic impact on both states.
"You have very strong economies that are growing. You have Andersen Windows, you have a number of companies and it just wasn't working to have this small bridge where literally trucks would rattle when they went over it. The bridge would be closed for months at a time and you'd have incredible gridlock."
Governor Scott Walker has also pushed for the project since taking office in 2010. He says the congressional exemption for the bridge is a rare example of a true bipartisan effort, with liberals and Tea Party conservatives working together.
"What other project could get [Democratic Sen.] Al Franken and [Republican Rep.] Michelle Bachmann on the same page? In our state, [Democratic Sen.] Tammy Baldwin and [Republican Sen.] Ron Johnson, I mean, politically there's nothing that matches this."
Some construction has already begun to make it easier for crews to work on the river, but before the full project gets underway biologists must move thousands of rare and endangered mussels by hand.