In Stillwater, the governor said he supports the $700 million project and backs a bill clearing the way to make it happen.
In his strongest public endorsement yet, and in a sharp shift from statements he made a month ago, Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday said he supports a new $700 million, four-lane St. Croix River Crossing.
"I want a resolution to this," he said after touring the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge with Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and other local officials. "We need a bridge. I think if the legislation can be enacted, the bridge can go forward."
Dayton was referring to a bill by Bachmann, introduced last month and opposed by Rep. Betty McCollum -- who, like Dayton, is a Democrat -- that would nullify a ruling by the National Park Service last fall that blocked construction of the long-contentious project because it violated the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Dayton last month had said he was open to looking at other alternatives in light of the ruling. And a Jan. 31 letter to Dayton from a coalition of 25 environmental and social-action groups urged a more modest bridge that would be less costly but still ease congestion in Stillwater.
But Dayton said replacing one two-lane bridge with another won't solve the problem, and would be more expensive because it would involve planning from scratch.
"I understand, I respect the point of view that there are people who don't want a bridge at all," Dayton said. "But I think it's a little bit disingenuous to say, 'Well, we're in favor of a different bridge than this one [being proposed]' when this one's the only realistic possibility for the next decade, and probably longer."
McCollum, vowing to fight Bachmann's bill, called it "fiscally irresponsible, environmentally damaging" and said it will "create a transportation mess for communities along ... Highway 36 in the congressional district I represent."
Bachmann introduced similar legislation last session that directly asked the U.S. secretary of the Interior to clear the project, but it went nowhere. Her new bill takes a slightly different tack, calling for the Park Service to revert to a 2005 ruling that declared the bridge compatible with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The bill has drawn support from Republican Reps. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin and Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, and Democrat Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
"We're at a point where it takes an act of Congress to get a bridge built, so that's what we're doing," Bachmann said. The cost of a new bridge since the early 1990s, she said, has grown by $3.17 million a month.
She said she expects support from Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Herb Kohl, a Democrat, and Ron Johnson, a Republican. Bachmann said support from Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Democrats, is in discussion.
In fact, Klobuchar is already working on a bill in the Senate, said spokesman Linden Zakula. "The senator supports a new bridge and is working on her own legislation in the Senate and looks forward to working with the Minnesota and Wisconsin delegations on this issue," he said.
Bachmann, considering a bid for president in 2012, has pointedly stated she supports the project because it does not require federal funding. If her bill passes, she said, "the next step would be funding at the state level, and away we go."
By current projections, Minnesota would pay the greater share of the bridge cost because of associated road work.
Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999