Sunday, May 29, 2011

Betty and the Bridge Part 2: Betty and the Senators

The need for a new bridge was evident back in 1990, but as the 2010 census has shown, major growth in the last ten years has been out along the Hwy 36 corridor toward Stillwater, making it an even stronger case.  Beginning in the early 1990's the bridge replacement was envisioned as a four lane bridge.  It drew the immediate ire of the environmental group Sierra Club, known for its frequent lawsuits designed to tie up plans for any development project. At first it was the environment lobby, then it was too big, too expensive, then it was diminished need.  The arguments against seem to flounder around.

Michele Bachmann submitted legislation to clear the way for bridge plans, originally approved by the National Park Service in 2005, to move forward.  The legislation does not call for spending.  It creates the legal basis for the proponents of the bridge to proceed with project planing.  After another law suit by the Sierra Club the Park Service had, in a rather unprecedented move, reversed its opinion.  Only Congress could counter that decision.

This was the point where Betty McCollum stepped in and began to voice what appears to be overly strong dissension.  She says the "the prospect of such legislation becoming law is negligible, which makes such a strategy more of a political distraction than a real transportation solution,"  That basically missed the mark for a real argument, so she has also referred to it alternately as: violates the scenic nature, too expensive, to big, would create huge traffic down Hwy 36.  She does state that she supports a bridge for Stillwater, but limits that support to a two lane bridge. 

The National Parks issue is primarily one of the scenic nature of protected waterways.  I for one remain unconvinced of the scenic difference between a four lane and a two lane bridge.  The visibility is about the same with either.  The constant delays by the environmentalist lobbies has so dramatically increased the costs of the bridge, that the "cost" of either size is completely drowned in the waste that has been created by their actions.  Its important to note that Betty McCollum votes very consistently with the environmentalism lobby, receiving a 100% scorecard rating.  I have also not seen cost estimates for a two lane. So the savings, and significance, remains a bit of a mystery.  The two arguments that its too big and that it would create huge traffic also seem contradictory in nature.

A March 2, 2011 Strib article predictably supports Betty's position
Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced a bill on Tuesday that would allow a new St. Croix River bridge despite a recent National Park Service ruling that the proposed bridge would violate the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Her bill drew immediate fire from Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, who serves a bordering district and said she would "do everything in my power" to defeat what she said amounts to an exemption from existing law on a protected river.

Planning for the proposed bridge, long under discussion to replace the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge, came to a halt in October when the Park Service ruled that the bridge violated federal law and would harm the river's scenic and recreational qualities.

Bachmann's support of a public works project that critics consider excessively costly -- a four-lane bridge currently being built over the Mississippi River at Hastings is expected to cost $120 million -- also led to allegations of so-called earmark spending from advocacy organizations that oppose a large bridge.

Bachmann, in an interview on Tuesday, said such criticism comes from "radical environmental groups" who she said are responsible for adding $500 million to the bridge's cost because of lawsuits and delays. Her bill isn't an earmark because it doesn't call for spending, she said. Money to pay for the bridge would be determined later by Minnesota and Wisconsin state governments and the federal government, she said.

"You build for the future," Bachmann said in defense of the current bridge proposal. "You don't build to create a problem. It would be nonsensical to build a bridge that would cause bottlenecks on either side of the river."

Well miracles do happen... The senators, all four, from both Minnesota and Wisconsin have joined together to advance legislation to clear the way for the four lane bridge. 
May 27 2011  Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation that would clear the way for a four-lane, highway-style bridge over the St. Croix River to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.
..."While I don't think the proposed four-lane bridge is a perfect bridge by any means, the people of Stillwater and the St. Croix Valley need a new bridge and one that can be built without further years of delay," Franken said in a statement. "I would have preferred a less expensive option but this is the bridge that's been chosen through a decades-long process, and I support its construction."

"This Senate legislation is a disappointment," McCollum said in a statement responding to the Klobuchar bill. "It achieves exactly the same outcome as Congresswoman Bachmann’s bill by removing protections for taxpayers in favor of an excessively large and costly bridge that overwhelmingly benefits Wisconsin.

This seems to be a crushing, and possibly stinging, blow from fellow Democrats to Betty McCollum's attempts to block the bridge.  Her response seems to ignore all the benefits that come from the new bridge.  Not the least of those will be safety, and hopefully reducing congestion in the access to the bridge. Which currently cripples traffic in downtown Stillwater.  The costs, nine times the original estimates, are almost entirely due to the 20+ years of delay that the environmental groups which Betty McCollum so often sides with. Again, she has an almost unique 100% rating in joining with them.  It also completely misses the point that the legislation does not remove protections from tax payers, that is simply a demagogic statement, it simply removes the National Parks issue about the Wild and Scenic River Act from preventing planning to proceed..

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