McCollum: Bridge plan overlooks congestion

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2011 - 7:02 PM

Proposed St. Croix River project should also address the potential bottlenecks, she told mayors of Hwy. 36 cities.

A new "megabridge" over the St. Croix River could create "tremendous costs" for cities along Hwy. 36 in Ramsey and Washington counties, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum told city leaders on Tuesday.

She said the state lacks a comprehensive plan for potentially significant traffic congestion from Roseville east to Stillwater and Oak Park Heights if a four-lane bridge is built. Cities already strapped for cash could find themselves caught between costly traffic bottlenecks and unfunded government mandates, McCollum told mayors and administrators.

"This is not just a bridge," she said. "This is an entire transportation corridor."

McCollum supports a new bridge but says the current proposal is excessively expensive. The plan also lacks key components such as a weigh station to control heavy truck traffic, she said.

Representatives from Little Canada, Mahtomedi, Oakdale, North St. Paul, Maplewood and Roseville were present. All the cities fall within McCollum's Fourth Congressional District, which also includes St. Paul.

McCollum reassured two Minnesota Department of Transportation officials at the meeting in North St. Paul that she wasn't criticizing them or the efforts to address congestion. She said it is a political reality, however, that there won't be enough money for all the east-metro proposals, including improvements along Interstate 94 and the Hudson bridge that could compete with the proposed St. Croix bridge and Hwy. 36.

"We're talking about two bridges six miles apart and the impact they may have on one another," she said.

Tom O'Keefe, representing MnDOT, outlined several projects either planned or under way that should improve traffic along Hwy. 36:

• A $16.6 million remake of the Rice Street interchange at Little Canada and Roseville that's to be finished this year.

• A $12 million reconstruction of the English Street bottleneck in Maplewood that would be done in 2014.

• A $29 million realignment of Hwy. 36 between Hamline Avenue and Victoria Street that includes a new bridge and interchange. Construction would begin in three or four years.

• In addition, Hwy. 36 through North St. Paul to Maplewood has recently been rebuilt.

Current traffic counts show a daily average of 35,500 vehicles at North St. Paul with more than 80,000 through Roseville to the west.

Some of the mayors were skeptical of the traffic numbers projected for a new bridge. O'Keefe said MnDOT had "no immediate plans" to update those figures.

"What is our process so we're not picking up the tab -- and I'll be blunt here -- for growth in Wisconsin?" McCollum asked. Failure to devise a comprehensive traffic plan along Hwy. 36 could strap cities for 20 years after a new bridge is built, she said.

Mayor Carmen Sarrack of Oakdale said Hwy. 36 traffic is vital to his city's economy. He favors a bigger St. Croix bridge, but he also wants to make sure that construction doesn't block Hwy. 36 entrances to his city.

Maplewood Mayor Will Rossbach prefers a smaller bridge scaled to Hwy. 36. He told members of a U.S. House subcommittee recently in submitted testimony that the current plan lacks mass transit to reduce congestion.

Kevin Giles • 651-735-3342 Twitter: @stribgiles

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