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New bridge over St. Croix River nears completion, could spur growth

Falcon News Service

February 22, 2017

Commuters who travel between Minnesota and Wisconsin may have an easier time beginning this summer.

The new St. Croix Crossing bridge — connecting Oak Park Heights on the Minnesota side and St. Joseph on the Wisconsin side — is expected to open in early August, two months ahead of schedule.

“The crews got a lot done over the summer, much faster than anticipated,” said Diana Maas, Northwest Region communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The new bridge would replace the old lift bridge in Stillwater, Minnesota.

“This project has been in the making for two to three decades,” said Kevin Gutknecht, director of communication for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

“Talk began long ago on how we would we replace the current lift bridge,” added Gutknecht. “This project took a very long time. It literally took an act of Congress to move this project forward.”

Environmental concerns were among issues that had to be addressed before construction could begin. The bridge is in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is protected under the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The National Park Service at first supported the bridge, but then reversed its decision, saying the project would have “direct and adverse effects” on the riverway. A bipartisan effort in Congress in 2012 provided an exemption for the bridge project and cleared the way for construction.

“We have been waiting for a new bridge for years,” said Tom Magnifici, owner of WaterWorks Irrigation in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.

The majority of Magnifici’s business is across the St. Croix River in the Stillwater area, but he lives in Wisconsin. Traveling across the bridge every day for the last few years has taken its toll on Magnifici’s business and others who commute, especially when the lift bridge had to close for maintenance.

“I would have to add an extra three hours on to my day when the bridge was closed,” said Magnifici.

Steve Jahn, executive director of Momentum West, said, “The new bridge is very important to everyone who lives in the area.” Momentum West is a regional economic development organization working with the 10 counties in western Wisconsin across the border from Minnesota. The organization helps businesses with a variety of economic development issues.

“The new bridge will allow the traffic to be more spread out on Interstate 94,” Jahn said. “On average, 60,000 to 80,000 people drive across the Hudson bridge every day from Wisconsin to Minnesota or vice versa.” They include hundreds of students who attend UW-River Falls, plus residents of River Falls and Hudson who work in the Twin Cities.

A second thoroughfare will also create demand for more goods and services in the area, which will help with economic growth in Wisconsin, added Jahn.

Jahn expects the population to grow in western Wisconsin after the bridge opens. He said the bridge also will make the trip to Eau Claire quicker and population growth could be very widespread.

Communities around Somerset and New Richmond, Wisconsin, are aggressively marketing commercial properties along the bridge corridor. They are looking at ways to leverage the bridge, said Jahn.

While the bridge is expected to open ahead of schedule, some construction delays were encountered.

“The contractor ran into some problems with the construction of the project and there were some weather issues last summer,” said Gutknecht. “They were able to bring in some different equipment, which sped up the process last summer.”

He added: “I believe there is only one other kind of bridge like this in the United States.”

Cost of the project, estimated between $617 million and $646 million, is being shared between Wisconsin and Minnesota. The bridge uses an “extradosed” design. The construction materials are made of cables and concrete. The design is special in that it reduces the tower heights of the bridge so that it sits below the St. Croix River bluffs. It also reduces the number of piers in the water. The extradosed bridge minimizes the environmental impact, according to MnDOT.

The Stillwater Chamber of Commerce is planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony when the new bridge opens and MnDOT will work with the city of Stillwater when the time comes, Gutknecht said.

Further information about the project is available from the MnDOT website about the St. Croix Crossing project at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/stcroixcrossing/.

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