Friday, June 12, 2009

Bridging the Gap: Stillwater Finally Gets a Bridge

We've lived in historic Stillwater, MN twenty-six years this June. When we moved here, plans were being made to replace our aging lift bridge. Commuters coming from Wisconsin waited in long lines during rush hour to cross the two lane bridge. Some worried it would collapse or be carried away by spring flood waters. "Cheeseheads" desparately wanted a new crossing. Stillwaterites were divided on the issue. Some were neutral. Some wanted a new bridge to reduce downtown traffic. Local downtown businessmen were concerned rerouting traffic would hurt their income. Many, like myself, wanted the historic lift bridge preserved if they built a new one. Long time residents were more likely to slowly smile and recall how plans for a new bridge were an almost done deal in the 1960's. You get the picture. No one could agree. Not only could they not agree on if we needed a bridge, they could not agree on where the new bridge should cross the river. It was narrowed down to three possible areas; One north, one south, and of course central. The southern corridor became the favorite and the state proceeded to acquire property through public domain. Dozens of homeowners were displaced and the homes demolished. That was about ten years ago. The project was on the fast track until opposition from Oak Park Heights council and the Sierra Club stopped it cold. Can't displace any river clams, can we? (Why are snails and clams more important than people?) Long time locals shook their heads and wondered if a bridge replacement would not be built until the old bridge collapsed and floated south. DOTs from MN and WI persisted in efforts to get funding for a new bridge. Finally it made the roster for federal funding. It would be built in 2024. How do you think that went over with folks whose homes had been demolished in 1999?
A year or so ago, I think after the bridge disaster in Mpls, our construction date was moved up to 2013. Mock up models of the new bridge were available for locals to peruse. It is gonna happen. Yup. Some old timers are still skeptical.
Yesterday's paper has a story about a Wisconsin lawmaker who thinks Minnesota has selected a design that is too expensive. The funding comes from federal, Wisconsin and Minnesota pockets. Those challenging him reminded us that the cost goes up a million each month we wait. I don't know if that is correct. Look what has happened to home prices.
The saga continues. States have deficits. Our Minnesota budget deficit is going to be solved by our governor's red pen using a law that gives the governor "Unallotment" powers. I'm not sure what percentage Minnesota has to cough up for the 600,000,000+ project, but I'm not wagering that we will cross that river on a new bridge anytime soon.
The local paper yesterday has a story of a bridge that will be coming soon to the Stillwater area. It is an old bridge (picture) that will be moved from northern Minnesota and used by bike trail traffic to cross a county road. Cost is 2.8 million. Wouldn't a stop sign be cheaper or is that just too obvious. Maybe I will e-mail the governor in case he hasn't noticed that project.

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