Clear-cutting of an abandoned neighborhood and the restoration of a scenic outlook now are in full swing as preparation for the new St. Croix bridge begins.
Construction of a four-lane St. Croix bridge shifts this week from maps and blueprints to roaring motors and a changing landscape in Oak Park Heights, the new host city.
An influx of heavy equipment means that work on the new bridge and its approach highways has begun in earnest. The work signals an impending retirement for the 1931 Stillwater Lift Bridge, about 2 miles to the north, which in 2017 will be closed to vehicle traffic and become part of a pedestrian loop trail.
The St. Croix Crossing project includes a roadway approach on the Wisconsin side of the river, historic and environmental mitigation, and trails for walking and cycling. Dozens of contractors and thousands of workers will be involved at the peak of the construction.
“I think that the communities will have an iconic bridge they will be pleased with that will serve them for years to come,” said Mary McFarland Brooks, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). “I think it will be something that people will be proud of.”
Here’s the latest in the two-state project, estimated to cost as much as $690 million:
• Preparation begins for reconstruction of Hwy. 36 and Hwy. 95. Work involves clearing trees and vegetation as well as removing pavement from the “Village Neighborhood” area in Oak Park Heights off Beach Road.
Work will continue for about two weeks in the area, where houses were removed in the 1990s. Roads into the work area will be barricaded. A popular traffic shortcut, 59th Street between Hwy. 95 and Stagecoach Trail, will permanently close.
Two trees with eagles’ nests will be preserved in the construction zone, McFarland Brooks said. “The eagles remain in their home,” she said last week.
• Crews are building a construction staging area on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River for the bridge foundations. A new dock wall will support equipment and material. Cranes and barges are being hauled to the site.
• MnDOT and its companion agency in Wisconsin will hold several public open houses to acquaint residents with the bridge project and how it affects them.
Minnesota open houses are scheduled for: May 21, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Oak Park Heights City Hall, 14168 Oak Park Blvd. N.; May 30, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Bayport Public Library, 582 4th St. N.; June 11, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Stillwater Public Library, 224 3rd St. N.
Wisconsin open houses are scheduled for: May 23, 5-7 p.m., Hudson High School Cafeteria, 1501 Vine St.; June 4, 6:30-8 p.m., Houlton Elementary School, 70 County Hwy. E.
• Boaters can expect a channel “narrowing” and a no-wake zone beginning in late May near Sunnyside Marina. The restriction will result from work on bridge footings in the river.
• MnDOT will do public programming on Valley Cable in June to inform Washington County residents about the latest work.
• A groundbreaking for the bridge project will be held May 28 at 2:30 p.m. at Lowell Park in Stillwater. Govs. Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Scott Walker of Wisconsin are expected to attend.
• Restoration of the Lake St. Croix Overlook in Oak Park Heights has begun. Improvements will include replacing portions of the rock wall, repaving the area, replacing and updating interpretive history, and restoring landscaping to its native state.
The overlook was one of a series of “highway rests” built by the National Youth Administration, a federal poverty-relief program, in the late 1930s.