Controversial Stillwater bridge project approved by U.S. House

We gotta give her credit -- Michele Bachmann got it done.

Last week, Gov. Dayton wrote Bachmann a letter informing her that the state would reallocate money currently set aside for a new Stillwater bridge if the project wasn't approved by the U.S. House before March 15. With only a handful of legislative days before the deadline, the odds looked slim. Rep. Betty McCollum, a staunch opponent of the project, said last week that  "It's doubtful this flawed bill will pass the House on the Governor's timeline"

But today, the U.S. House voted 339-80 to approve the bridge project, meaning President Obama's expected signature is the only thing in the way of shovels entering dirt on the St. Croix shores.

The new freeway-style bridge would essentially extend Highway 36 into Wisconsin.
The new freeway-style bridge would essentially extend Highway 36 into Wisconsin.

The bridge design supported by Dayton and Bachmann would essentially extend Highway 36 from Oak Park Heights into Wisconsin, where it would link up with Highway 64. It would replace the 81-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge and cross the St. Croix River five miles north of I-94.

Project cost is estimated to be up to $690 million, divided between Minnesota and Wisconsin. House action was necessary because the project needs an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to proceed. With the support of Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, the U.S. Senate approved that exemption in January.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker joined Dayton in publicly supporting the bridge. While Dayton was busy unveiling a Vikings stadium plan, Walker released the following statement:

Both Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Dayton support the proposed bridge.
Both Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Dayton support the proposed bridge.
I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for voting in favor of the St. Croix River Project today. After decades of work, this bill is now going to the president's desk. This legislation was a top federal priority for my administration and is a great example of bipartisanship teamwork that will create thousands of jobs.

McCollum, meanwhile, continues to characterize the bridge as representing "wasteful government spending, bad transportation policy and bad environmental policy." Both she and Rep. Keith Ellison have said they support a new bridge but only if the design is less expensive and large than the freeway-style one currently on the table. Some Democrats, however, argued that with a coal-burning power plant next door and very little wildlife near where the bridge would be located, the risk of further environmental degradation associated with the project is minimal. In the end, that argument won the day.

Related coverage:
-- New Stillwater bridge: As deadline and redistricting loom, pressure is on Bachmann
-- Michele Bachmann wants St. Croix River cut from Wild and Scenic Rivers protection
-- Michele Bachmann says federal law doesn't apply to pet bridge project
-- Michele Bachmann was for the stimulus while she was against it

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