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Unanimous U.S. Senate vote moves Stillwater bridge closer to reality

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Bipartisan legislation to allow the St. Croix River bridge project to move forward was passed by the U.S. Senate unanimously Monday, Jan. 23.

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The bill must now pass the House of Representatives to be able to be signed into law, clearing the way for Minnesota and Wisconsin to build the new bridge.

Today's action by the United State Senate is an historic step forward for this project and our region," said Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, a lobbying group in favor of the new bridge. "After so many decades of meetings, planning and waiting - we are closer than ever to getting this done. For the people in the St. Croix River Valley who have waited for decades for a new bridge, the light at the end of the tunnel tonight is brighter."

Wilhelmi said the region's elected officials worked together in a bi-partisan approach on this issue.

"The Senate's recognition of this extraordinary challenge and their ability to come together to help solve it is worth celebrating," he said. "Senator (Amy) Klobuchar's leadership, supported fully by senators (Al) Franken, (Ron) Johnson, and (Herb) Kohl - is making a real difference for our region. With our equally united team in the United States House, we are hopeful that they will take up and approve this bill.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) led the effort in the Senate to pass the bill, which is cosponsored by Senators Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and supported by both Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

"This is a milestone for the St. Croix bridge project," said Klobuchar."The residents and businesses in Stillwater and along the St. Croix River Valley deserve a safe, more efficient alternative to the current 80 year-old lift bridge, which is outdated for the needs of the region. I hope the House will now take action and pass this critical legislation so that we can move forward and build this bridge."

"After years of delay, I'm pleased that we're a step closer to jump starting the St. Croix bridge project. For people in the Western part of our state, this infrastructure project will create jobs and improve travel efficiency and safety," Kohl said.

"This is great news for the residents of Stillwater and the St. Croix River Valley, as well as the many visitors who travel through the region each year," said Franken. "A lot of people's hard work made this possible, but I especially want to thank Sen. Klobuchar for her tireless leadership. I urge the House to act quickly on this legislation so we can finally get this bridge built."

"I am pleased that the St. Croix River Crossing Authorization Act passed the Senate today. Constructing the St. Croix bridge is important for both economic activity in western Wisconsin and the drivers that use the bridge. The people of Wisconsin and Minnesota have waited far too long for this replacement," said Johnson. "I'm happy to have been a part of this bipartisan effort. This legislation would not have passed the Senate without the strong leadership of Senator Amy Klobuchar and the help of Senators Al Franken and Herb Kohl."

This past summer Klobuchar and Stillwater, Minn. Mayor Ken Harycki testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in support of the bipartisan legislation and emphasized the importance of the project to the community. That paved the way for the bill to be considered by the U.S. Senate today where Klobuchar secured its passage unanimously.

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has a similar bipartisan bill in the House which is supported by U.S. Representatives Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), and Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).

Included in the legislation is a package of mitigation efforts to protect the St. Croix River that were developed by consulting the Department of Transportation and National Park Service. The mitigation measures were agreed to in 2006 by the National Park Service, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. The mitigation plan would help promote scenic and recreational values of the St. Croix River by eliminating existing man-made structures, protecting river bluff lands, restoring park land, and ensuring public boat access.

Still, critics of the bridge claim the project will negatively impact the Wild and Scenic Riverway and shouldn't be constructed. They also claim the bridge is too expensive and the proposed site is in the wrong place.

The current St. Croix River crossing is at the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge. As the bridge has aged, closings for structural and vehicle collision repairs and maintenance inspections have increased. In addition, the bridge's unique function as a lift bridge, which lifts frequently to allow boats to travel the St. Croix River, is a source of severe traffic congestion.

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