A group focused on a plan they think is "sensible" unveiled a new idea recently (July 12) to replace the Stillwater lift bridge. They say their bridge would solve traffic problems, save money and can be built in the same amount of time. According to the group, the bridge would be lower, slower and cheaper. It is so sensible that it seems too good to be true.
Unfortunately, their bridge is too good to be true. In this case, what is being called new and sensible is actually an old and rejected plan and it is far from sensible. It is a false choice that plays fast and loose with facts, plays with emotion and ignores the realities.
We should know. We represent the people who live, work, and pay taxes in St. Croix County in Wisconsin and Washington County in Minnesota. Collectively, our residents and businesses have spent decades not only dealing with the bridge's problems, but also looking at the best way to solve them.
For more than three years people who care about the river, our communities and our history took part in an ongoing series of facilitated community meetings with transportation and environmental experts to look at every possible option to replace the now 80-year-old Stillwater lift bridge. We studied dozens of bridge routes and designs and even a tunnel underneath the river.
The "sensible plan" to put the new bridge through historic downtown Stillwater was rejected early in the planning process by multiple state and federal agencies including the Minnesota Department of Natural of Resources, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the United States Park Service.
Additionally, the plan was rejected because this odd diagonal bridge would damage the bluff, destroy nine acres of parkland and destroy the views of this beautiful river from downtown Stillwater and from the historic lift bridge. A three-lane bridge is dangerously unsafe, and cannot meet current traffic demands, let alone projected traffic demands. And, by the way, when subjected to real analysis from real bridge engineers, its cost is only marginally lower, coming at well over $500 million.
Nothing shared by the Responsible Stillwater Bridge Partnership changes these facts. Spending millions on a plan that would make today's traffic congestion a permanent problem would be the ultimate boondoggle.
It's far more sensible to build a new bridge that truly addresses traffic problems, protects the river, respects historic landmarks and does not destroy the view of the river from Lowell Park.
Replacing the Stillwater lift bridge is complicated, because we need a solution that addresses more than just a new bridge. We need to improve our roads in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, reduce traffic congestion on roads that were not designed to handle such a high volume of vehicles, and enhance access to the river. At the same time, we need to protect the wild and scenic river that helps make our region a great place.
Finding a solution to all of these challenges was not easy. That is why the stakeholders thoroughly reviewed dozens of options, including the "sensible bridge," before determining that the St. Croix River Crossing is the best bridge for the region.
Leadership demands understanding and accepting the challenge, identifying the best solution, and then bringing people together to make it happen. We are committed to doing just that, because our region needs to move forward.
That is why we join both our governors, all four U.S. senators, members of Congress, and many other leaders from both sides of the river and political aisle to support the best plan to not only replace the bridge, but to make our region a better place for years to come. It's the only approach that makes any sense.
Gary Kriesel is chair of the Washington County Board of Commissioners and Daryl Standafer is chair of the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors. Both Kriesel and Standafer are a part of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.