The examination of the area under the St. Croix River that will support the piers of a new four-lane span will start this summer.
Work will begin this summer on testing soil beneath the St. Croix River for piers to support a new four-lane bridge at Oak Park Heights, project leaders said Tuesday.
An open house in Stillwater drew about 150 people, most of them business and government leaders who have worked to find a replacement for the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge.
"Everybody said it would take an act of Congress to build this bridge. Well, we did it," said Tom Sorel, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). "We're building a legacy bridge, a bridge for future generations."
MnDOT manager Jon Chiglo, who led MnDOT's construction of a new Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis in 2007 after its predecessor collapsed, is the new project leader. He will head an office known as "St. Croix Crossing Team" and will coordinate with MnDOT's companion agency in Wisconsin.
"We will work very hard to protect the natural and cultural resources associated with this job," Chiglo said. "We acknowledge the complexity of the issues associated with this project."
Construction of a new bridge would begin in 2014, with completion expected in 2017. Preliminary work includes right-of-way acquisition and design work.
The project will include rebuilding stretches of highway on both sides of the St. Croix River. The Lift Bridge would close to vehicle traffic and become part of a walking and cycling trail looping through St. Joseph Township on the Wisconsin side and back over the new bridge to Stillwater. The lift on the old bridge would remain on schedule for boaters to pass underneath.
Sorel, describing the project as a "community bridge," was joined in Tuesday's announcement by Michael Berg, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Despite the festive atmosphere of the open house, roadblocks to the estimated $676 million project remain. President Obama hasn't signed legislation that authorizes construction, but MnDOT officials expect that to happen this week. Also, the source of millions of dollars in utility relocation costs in Oak Park Heights hasn't been decided.
"I just kind of get a feeling that they're sloughing off Oak Park Heights for the betterment of Stillwater," said Pam Patrick, an Oak Park Heights resident who lives near a neighborhood where nearly 100 houses were "ripped out" in the 1990s to clear a path for the bridge approach.
Sorel and Chiglo said they were confident of a solution for the city of 4,700 residents just south of Stillwater. The Oak Park Heights City Council hasn't agreed to "municipal consent" that would allow the project to proceed, citing costs that could lead to steep property tax increases.
Details about the project are available at www.mndot.gov/stcroixcrossing.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles