Backers cite support for new St. Croix River bridge

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2012 - 2:34 PM

But opponents question the lopsided results of a survey that was released by a pro-bridge group.

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Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, released the results of a survey showing strong support for a proposed four-lane bridge during a press conference Monday at the State Office Building in St. Paul.

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St. Croix Valley residents overwhelmingly support plans to replace the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge with a new four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River, according to survey results released Monday by the pro-bridge Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing.

According to the coalition, more than 85 percent of respondents said they were in favor of constructing a new bridge south of Stillwater. The survey also showed that 43 percent said the bridge was their biggest concern, ranking it ahead of concerns about jobs and the economy and education.

Mike Wilhelmi, executive director of the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, touted the results during a media briefing at the State Office Building in St. Paul. He referred questions about the survey's methodology to the firm that conducted it. He also would not say who paid for the survey, only that it was "donated."

A spokesman for American Strategies Inc. and Myers Research, the Washington, D.C., advocacy and research firm that conducted the survey, said it was paid for by the National Association of Realtors. The spokesman said he could not recall how much it cost.

Opponents of the $690 million bridge project called the survey a gimmick in support of a boondoggle.

"Ninety-nine percent of Minnesota doesn't benefit from this $700 million mega-bridge, and they weren't asked their opinion," said Bill Harper, chief of staff for Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. "With 1,700 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in our state, what Minnesotan doesn't want his or her local bridge repaired or replaced?"

The telephone survey was conducted Jan. 18-22. It polled 400 randomly selected adults in towns on or near the St. Croix River. That included 162 in the Minnesota towns of Stillwater, Bayport, West Lakeland, Oak Park Heights, Grant and Stillwater Township, communities north of Interstate 94. In Wisconsin, the poll included 238 residents, including some from Houlton, Somerset, Hudson, North Hudson and those 15 miles away in New Richmond. The margin of error was 4.9 percent.

The results come just more than a week after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation to grant environmental clearances for the controversial crossing. The issue is pending in the U.S. House.

Discussions about the bridge have intensified in recent months with federal funding deadlines approaching.

"Based on conversations we have had, we believe that the vast majority of the public in the St. Croix Valley wants a new crossing and would support our work," said Wilhelmi, whose coalition is composed of business, labor, government and community leaders. "But we were not able to quantify public support for the project until now."

Mayor David Beaudet of Oak Park Heights opposes the bridge because of the tax burden it could potentially put on his city's residents. He didn't put a whole lot of stock into the results.

"Two-thirds of Alaskans still support the Bridge to Nowhere," he said. "I hope Congress is still listening."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib

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