The red dotted line marks the location of the new bridge and highway. Purple marks the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge.
The existing Stillwater Lift Bridge
This major project will divert traffic from the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge to a four-lane bridge that will connect expressways on both sides of the St. Croix River. Currently, severe traffic congestion in downtown Stillwater causes pedestrian and traffic safety problems, which are amplified by Lift Bridge operations.
The St. Croix Crossing project will provide a safer, more reliable river crossing. The project includes a four-lane river bridge, new roadway approaches on both sides of the river, historic and environmental mitigation, and extensive trail facilities that will include converting the Lift Bridge to a bike and pedestrian facility. The project will provide jobs for suppliers, subcontractors, disadvantaged business enterprises as well as general contractors.
The existing St. Croix River crossing at Stillwater, Minnesota, is a highway bridge connecting downtown Stillwater to the Town of St. Joseph in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. The crossing consists of a 1,050‑foot-long, 10-span, 2-lane bridge and a 750-foot earthen causeway extending from the Wisconsin shoreline. It is known as "the Lift Bridge," because one of the spans is a distinctive vertical lift span.
The bridge, which opened in 1931, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Frequent raising of the bridge to allow boats to travel the St. Croix River causes traffic congestion in Stillwater and Houlton, Wisconsin, as traffic backs up to wait for the bridge to lower and resume vehicular traffic.
History of Debate
Consideration of a replacement bridge over the St. Croix River near Stillwater began in the early 1970s. Formal assessment of alternatives began with the preparation of the St. Croix River Crossing Draft Study Outline and Scoping Document (1985). Alternatives assessed with the 1985 document eventually led to the analysis of three river crossing corridor alternatives and two tunnel alternatives with the 1990 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In 1995, the Final EIS identified a preferred alternative, and a Record of Decision was issued on July 10, 1995.
In April 1995, Mn/DOT, Wis/DOT, and FHWA completed a Final EIS and Section 4(f) Evaluation for a replacement bridge about 1,920 meters (6,300 feet) south of the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge. A Record of Decision (ROD) was issued by FHWA in July 1995, and work began on the final design of the river crossing and the approach roadways. Right-of-way was acquired, and site preparation work was initiated. In 1996, the National Park Service (NPS) evaluated the project under Section 7(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and found that the project, as proposed, would have a direct and adverse effect on the outstandingly remarkable scenic and recreational values for which the Lower St. Croix River was included in the National Wild and Scenic River System. As a result of this finding, federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard could not be issued for the project, and the project was not allowed to proceed. In April 1998, the U.S. District Court upheld the NPS determination.
In an effort to determine whether any crossing of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was feasible near Stillwater, Mn/DOT and Wis/DOT invited Richard P. Braun, a retired Mn/DOT transportation commissioner, to perform an independent review of the project. Braun was asked to review the need for a replacement crossing and to investigate potential bridge alignment alternatives. In addition, he was asked to recommend an alignment and type of bridge structure that would be both feasible to construct and acceptable for implementation by the key interested parties. Between June and September of 1998, Braun conducted extensive discussions and meetings with many individuals and organizations, and facilitated public meetings with a 21-member advisory group (the St. Croix River Crossing Advisory Group) that included representatives from federal and state regulatory agencies, local and regional units of government, environmental groups, historic preservation groups, and chambers of commerce.
Braun recommended a four-lane, deck-tied, steel arch bridge on an alignment 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) south of the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge. The proposed bridge would cross the river perpendicularly and would be shorter than the 1995 Final EIS Preferred Alternative. The alignment would also take advantage of an existing ravine on the Wisconsin bluff, thereby reducing potential impacts on the Lower St. Croix Valley. A large majority of the St. Croix River Crossing Advisory Group agreed that they could accept the Braun recommendations.
Unlikely Allies Agree — the New St. Croix River Bridge Crossing is Needed
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and U.S. Representative Michelle Bachmann both agree on building a new bridge over the federally protected St Croix River. Bachmann worked closely with Wisconsin lawmakers to introduce legislation in Congress to create an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that allows a new four-lane St. Croix River bridge to be built in the near future.
Legislation proposed by Senators Klobuchar, Kohl, Franken, and Johnson was important milestone for Minnesota and Wisconsin in the process of addressing a transportation problem that has plagued the region for decades.
Community members and state and federal agencies worked together for years to develop the best solution to the problem. These stakeholders studied dozens of alternatives and answered questions about the need for a new bridge, the project costs, and the location of the bridge before determining that the St. Croix River Crossing is the best solution to the region's transportation issues.
The senators spent time reviewing the project, looking at the facts, and meeting with people on different sides of the issue. Their support for the plan is yet another validation that this is the best solution postiioned in the right location to handle these transportation needs, respect the region's history, and preserve an important natural resource.