Tuesday: Still overworked in Stillwater

The lift bridge is open again, but a lumber truck on Monday did what politicians couldn't: It "got the big trucks off the bridge," at least temporarily.

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Cars, trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians made their way across the Stillwater Lift Bridge which was damaged on Monday. Heavier vehicles were detoured to another route over the St. Croix River.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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It's an old bridge built for simpler times, when western Wisconsin was mostly farmland and Stillwater, to Minneapolis and St. Paul residents, was considered an out-of-town trip.

But the lift bridge spanning the St. Croix River -- the centerpiece of Stillwater's picturesque riverfront -- fell to another reminder of overuse Monday when a lumber truck with a boom on top wedged its way onto the bridge, inflicting considerable damage.

"The city's been trying to get trucks banned from that bridge," said Mayor Ken Harycki. Many truckers are trying to avoid interstate weigh stations by driving through downtown Stillwater, but the city's pleas for legislative action have failed, he said.

"Individually, he accomplished what 100 politicians in St. Paul couldn't do -- he got the trucks off the bridge," the mayor said of Monday's errant driver.

The 1931 bridge is open to cars and light trucks, although several bigger trucks also crossed despite warnings to take other routes, said Kent Barnard, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman.

The lift bridge was built for smaller vehicles and far fewer of them during the throes of the Depression. Today it's a conduit into Wisconsin for 18,000 vehicles a day.

"It's definitely woefully undersized for the traffic it carries," Barnard said.

On Monday, a driver who works for a Lake Elmo lumber company tried to cross the bridge in a truck that was too tall for the horizontal spans, which have a clearance of 13 feet 2 inches. The truck damaged eight cross braces, three portals on the arches, and bent some vertical supports, Barnard said.

The driver, 70, from Farmington, Wis., hasn't been cited or charged, said Lt. Jeff Klatt of the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office.

Repairs will begin in about a month after engineers determine the extent of the damage, Barnard said. The bill for the work will be sent to the driver's insurance company, he said.

"It will not come out of Minnesota and Wisconsin taxpayers' pockets," he said.

The bridge was closed for about five hours Monday. Heavier vehicles are prohibited from using the Stillwater bridge until MnDOT crews and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determine whether it can support them, Barnard said.

The lift bridge underwent $5 million in repairs in 2005 and 2006. However, MnDOT cautioned that the repairs were temporary and that the bridge wasn't built to accommodate the volume of traffic using it.

MnDOT plans to begin construction on a new St. Croix bridge in 2013.

Once that is built the lift bridge will be closed to traffic but will remain open to pedestrians and cyclists.

Kevin Giles • 651-298-1554

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