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Continued: St. Croix County, Wis., positioning for prosperity new bridge will bring

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 10, 2014 - 7:19 AM

Nobody has proposed building a big retail store in St. Joseph, but with the new bridge coming, that’s not out of the question, said Ellen Denzer, St. Croix County’s community development coordinator. The town’s sanitary services as they now stand would be inadequate, she said, because the entire town uses private septic disposal.

“The idea of a small community totally putting in a sanitary system so they can handle big-box retail probably wouldn’t be cost effective,” she said.

Whether the bridge will lead to rapid development, however, remains to be seen.

The new highway leading from the bridge isn’t being built to accommodate large retail development, said Bill Rubin of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp.

“There’s going to be traffic but I think the point of the four-lane highway is to limit the comings and goings, on and off,” he said. “I don’t anticipate businesses dotting the landscape. Motorists have to be able to get to those businesses. You don’t want to diminish a four-lane highway with curb cuts and exits every few blocks.”

Denzer, for one, thinks it’s more likely that development will be slower, and confined mostly to smaller businesses.

That’s the thinking in New Richmond, too.

“Do we feel there’s going to be an impact from the bridge? Yes,” said Beth Thompson, the city’s economic development director. “Do we think it will be an overnight impact? No.”

Even with the new bridge, most of St. Croix County’s projected growth is expected to occur along I-94 east from Hudson.

Other trends, too, suggest slower development in the St. Croix County area where the bridge will be built.

The bridge will open at a time when demographers report diminishing interest in exurban living. And while housing sales have picked up in St. Croix County, the number of sheriff sales remain high.

Still, what’s not known, said Logan Kelly, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, is just how a new bridge will change commerce and transportation patterns.

“I would expect an almost immediate increase of traffic going across the new bridge,” he said. “That could make a pretty major shift as far as transportation dynamics. Forecasting something like this is historically really difficult.”

At the bustling Brewhouse, with 42 varieties of beer in an 1895 building, Polfus said he’s anxious for more business. His pub already attracts customers from the Twin Cities metro area, and if a new bridge makes that trip easier, he’s fine with that.

“I’m OK with busier,” he said.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037

 

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  • buying up land

    A 3.5-mile stretch of four-lane highway will be built through existing farm fields in St. Croix County. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has secured land for the first leg of the highway from the bridge site to County Road E in Houlton, where an interchange will be built. Land for the second leg will be purchased by August. That stretch of highway will extend north from County Road E to connect with the existing four-lane Hwy. 64 near Somerset.

    What’s new

    • Crews will begin highway construction in March.

    • Wisconsin Hwy. 35 will close to traffic the week of March 17. A detour will remain in effect until July.

    • By next fall, first phase of the highway project will be completed.

    • By fall 2016, the full project will be completed.

    • The project will include a loop trail through the town of St. Joseph that also will travel over the new bridge and Stillwater Lift Bridge.

    Other construction facts

    • Seven new retention ponds will contain about 9.6 million gallons of water.

    • Fifty-four dotted blazing star plants were transplanted from the construction zone in 2012. New seedlings were planted in prairie land at the New Richmond and Hudson school districts, as well as prairie land near Somerset.

    • A cattle pass will be built under County E.

    • Tree removals along the river bluff were monitored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Each individual tree was looked at to see if it should stay or if it had to be removed,” the agency said, because “saving as many trees as possible is of the utmost importance.”

    • For further information, go to www.dot.state.mn.us/stcroixcrossing/index.htm.

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