Reporting Esme Murphy
STILLWATER (WCCO) — The proposal to build a four lane bridge south of Stillwater to replace the historic lift bridge has prompted a lot of debate. However, the first survey to see how residents on both sides of the St. Croix feel about the project shows extraordinary support.
The proposed bridge by Minnesota’s Department of Transportation would cost $690 million. Critics have said the price tag is too high and environmental groups have raised concerns as well.
However, the St. Croix River Crossing Coalition found that 86 percent of area residents support a four-lane bridge to replace the 80-year-old Stillwater lift bridge.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate passed a bill in support of the bridge that was backed by all of Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s U.S. Senators. Supporters of the bridge say these kinds of poll numbers could well be the key to getting the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bridge bill.
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki spoke at a news conference Monday, saying that the poll confirmed what many residents had long suspected.
“This clearly reflects that the time to get this bridge built is now,” said Harycki.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, the bridge bill sponsor, agrees and says the poll will help in winning over votes.
“It demonstrates, on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin side of the river, that there is support from the people. We are the people’s representatives and people, in near unanimous voice, say build this bridge,” said Bachmann.
The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. Opponents, including Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Keith Ellison, have concerns about the cost and environmental problems.
In downtown Stillwater, WCCO-TV found overwhelming support for the project.
Leo’s Grill and Malt Shop is one block from the bridge. Owner Cory Buettner says the new bridge would relieve congestion and lead to more business.
“We already have a good business established,” he said. “This is only going to improve it.”
Across the lift bridge in Holton, Wis., Debra Knops works for B and L Liquor — a spot where many Minnesotans visit on Sundays.
The new bridge would be a mile south of the store, but Knops believes more people will use the new bridge and stop here.
“People know that this store is here. They will come,” said Knops.
As for a timeline, Bachmann would only say she expects a vote very soon on the proposal and she expects if a bill passes, President Barack Obama will sign it.
If that happens, MnDOT says constructions could begin in 2013 and the bridge could open in 2016.