It was a signature moment, the first time in the St. Croix River bridge project that a new road opened to traffic. Two-way traffic switched over to eastbound lanes on Hwy. 36 in Oak Park Heights early last week. Overnight, workers removed pavement from the old westbound lanes and removed tons of earth to grade the road down to the level of the new one.
As Washington County launches into 2014, stories about development are expected to dominate the headlines, helping everyone forget the last gasps of the Great Recession as the new year ushers in growth more reminiscent of prerecession days. Major issues in Washington County this year will include growing attention to groundwater shortages, debates over public spending, and a continuing march of serious crime through the courts. Increasing population also is expected to increase demands on services. Here are some of the big stories expected in 2014:
Big bridge, big changes
Highway reconstruction connected with the St. Croix River bridge project will move west in 2014, revamping gridlocked Oak Park Heights intersections at Osgood Avenue and Oakgreen/Greeley Avenue and related frontage roads on Hwy. 36. The reconstruction will be completed by fall.
Meanwhile, contractor Ames-Lunda will start work on the superstructure portion of the four-lane bridge; foundations for five sets of piers in the river are largely finished. On the Wisconsin side, construction of approach highways will begin this year.
The hum of rejuvenated economic activity is apparent around the county and much of it centers on Woodbury, which has opened a large swath of its undeveloped southern portion to housing. Construction has started at Bielenberg Gardens, which will include a grocery store, and senior and other housing. HealthEast Care System and Health Partners will add or expand medical clinics.
In Cottage Grove, a Wal-Mart Supercenter is set to open this spring. Housing developments are also sprouting.
Forest Lake broke ground in September on its new City Center. The former Northland Mall site will include a new City Hall/Public Safety building, but the city is hoping it also becomes a hub for private development.
Transit projects bloom
Two major transit projects in Washington County are gathering steam. The opening this year of the controversial new $6.2 million transit station in Newport represents a significant first step in the Red Rock Corridor, a 30-mile transit route that will snake from St. Paul to Hastings. The route will be serviced by express buses, but officials will continue to explore the possibility of converting to bus rapid transit or light-rail service.
The Gateway Corridor Commission is seeking $5 million in state bonding money for engineering work on the commuter corridor, set to open in 2022 along Interstate 94 from downtown St. Paul to the St. Croix River.
Hello, Stillwater Log Jam
A new Stillwater summer festival — the Log Jam — will take place, three years after the collapse of Lumberjack Days. Five Stillwater business owners who call themselves “The Locals” won permission from the City Council in November to organize a smaller, more homegrown event. The festival will include not only a parade and fireworks but many new attractions, such as local history displays. Lumberjack Days ended in 2011 over allegations of financial improprieties.
New beginnings at State Farm