Sunday, May 29, 2011

Betty and the Bridge Part 1: Betty and the Mayors

In a recent Oakdale City Council meeting, Mayor Carmen Sarrack reported to the council about a May 10th meeting held by Rep Betty McCollum [who wants a two lane bridge].  The meeting was to discuss the Stillwater Bridge with area Mayors and officials. Mayor Sarrack told McCollum that the Oakdale City Council preferred the plan as is [a four lane bridge] so that it would not be obsolete as soon as completed. In a subsequent interview (with this author), he added that he "felt the bridge was needed. It would be a big economic benefit to the region, but if we undersize it we will come up short. Build it right the first time. If it had been built when it should have, we would have saved millions."

Mayor Carmen Sarrack of Oakdale said Hwy. 36 traffic is vital to his city's economy. He favors a bigger St. Croix bridge, but he also wants to make sure that construction doesn't block Hwy. 36 entrances to his city.

Many studies have shown the need for the bridge. And in review of the cost estimates from the 1990's, at $76 million, vs current estimates of $668 million, it would have saved $592 million. So if anything, Mayor Sarrack has understated the costs of delay. The bridge has been the subject of much debate for over 20 years. However the current condition of the bridge is a matter of some concern.

In a Wisconsin public hearing:
The current bridge is well over its initial capacity from when it was built in 1931 and has become fracture-critical. The bridge is frequently closed due to flooding and for maintenance, which requires traffic to be rerouted across the I-94 Bridge, increasing congestion and travel times.

“This is a public safety concern. The Stillwater Bridge has a sufficiency rating of 33, the I-35W Bridge that collapsed a few years ago had a rating of 50,” said Severson. “Without a replacement we could be faced with another bridge collapse. Everyday that we delay on this project threatens the safety of the commuters who use the bridge and adds to the overall cost.”

The environmental groups, that Betty McCollum so often sides with, she has an almost unique 100% rating, had been involved from the beginning (with lawsuits dating back to the 1990's), but still sue and play other delaying tactics. Tactics that jeopardize people and ultimately simply make the projects much more expensive.

February 28, 2011, The National Park Service, which oversees the scenic riverway beneath the bridge, was sued last year by the Sierra Club, which opposes the "bigger is better" proposal.
"They had a seat at the table," says Rep. Kind. "They were one of many voices to decide the location, the scale, the scope of the project. I feel it's a little disingenuous now that even though their idea wasn't the final one adopted, they still want to challenge and tie this up in court."
December 4, 2010 Progress on building a $668 million bridge across the St. Croix River stalled in October when the National Park Service — reversing an opinion issued five years ago — said the bridge should not be allowed because the river is protected by the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

 In the 1990's the bridge was first being discussed, then it was considerably cheaper, nearly nine times less. The plan has always been the same, a four lane bridge to replace the over capacity lift bridge. A smaller bridge would greatly diminish the service capacity, and serve no purpose in reducing the visibility of the bridge. Which has been one of the primary concerns/complaints voiced by the Sierra Club.

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN) - December 5, 1990 - 1A Main

A new bridge will be built over the national wild and scenic St. Croix River in Stillwater during the 1990s, Minnesota and Wisconsin officials announced Tuesday. The departments of transportation from both states are planning for the $76 million project, which would involve building a four-lane bridge approximately 3,200 feet long. The new bridge - a replacement for the 59-year-old, two-lane lift bridge in downtown Stillwater - would span the river from Minnesota 36 at the...
More history is contained in the HR850 bill.

So the end result of all the long continued delay has been to increase the cost nine fold, not including all the legal fees etc., and to make conditions far more hazardous for the people in the area. Growth in the area has almost certainly been stunted by the delay in adequate infrastructure.

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