River Crossing celebrates 10 years | Opinion
Tempus flees. Time passes.
An internal calendar suggested that something significant in the St. Croix Valley had happened 10 years ago.
Key words typed into a search engine confirmed what the memory bank could not.
After decades of debate, after decades of shouting in the valley, after decades of government agencies fighting against government agencies. . . the United States House of Representatives has approved legislation for a new bridge over the St. Croix River between St. Croix County, Wisconsin and Washington County, Minnesota. The Senate’s unanimous consent on his bill in January set the stage for the House.
The House vote of 339 to 80 took place on March 1, 2012. It followed a spirited evening of floor debate on February 29. The Internet broadcast the House debate and vote live. The representative from Wisconsin whose district included the St. Croix Valley spoke with passion. He likened the rarity of a leap year debate to the unique opportunity to support the bill. He included the Packers and Vikings as an example of how people with different viewpoints could come together to secure passage. Sensing that every vote counted, the same representative may have been seen escorting a colleague to the rostrum and the shaft of the Chambers of the House in preparation for the vote.
On the eve of the debate and vote in the House, a local official was quoted: “I feel like we are in the last 48 hours of a 60-year race to get this bridge built. Sixty years? Not so fast.
Would he or wouldn’t he? The legislation was sent to President Obama for his signature, and on March 14 the bill was signed into law. YES!
What an enigma. What a puzzle solved. An aging lift bridge, opened in 1931 and nearing the end of its economic life, needed to be replaced. But not so fast. The St. Croix River was part of a network of wild and scenic rivers protected by federal law. Historical conservatives and environmentalists have been pitted against progressives because of a misunderstood endorsement – Build a Bridge; Shoot one down. Not so fast. A federally facilitated stakeholder group convened from 2002 to 2005 recommended approval of a new bridge in a corridor approximately one mile downstream from the lift bridge. Their work followed a December 1996 statement from the National Park Service recommending that no federal permits be issued for what was thought to be the construction of a replacement bridge as early as 1997. Not so soon. In the project’s decision record, the Federal Highway Administration said funding for a new bridge was years and years away. Not so fast.
One by one, US Representatives and Senators began visiting the old lift bridge. Their support helped jump-start a new effort to win the federal bill authorizing an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Funding would follow.
And the rest? The rest is history. The MnDOT appointed a project leadership team around the time the bill was signed into law. The rest of 2012 was spent obtaining bedrock samples from below the river bed. This gave project bidders the information needed for informed estimates. A set of pillars have been eliminated from the project to further reduce environmental impact. The iconic lift bridge has been converted into a recreational facility for pedestrians and cyclists.
With much fanfare, the St. Croix River Crossing opened in early August 2017, earning it five years this summer. Not so fast. History is still being written. Tempus flees.