Daily traffic has increased significantly on the new St. Croix River bridge compared with crossings on its predecessor, the Stillwater Lift Bridge, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
Measurements taken at the east end of the four-lane bridge, where it connects with St. Croix County, show a daily average of 28,145 vehicle crossings since its opening in early August.
The two-lane Lift Bridge was logging about 17,000 daily crossings when it closed to vehicle traffic on Aug. 2, the same day the new bridge opened.
On the Minnesota side, traffic near the bridge isn’t being counted. However, sensors on the main road leading to the bridge, Hwy. 36, show an increase in traffic, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation data.
“I think there still could be a lot of sightseers, potentially,” said Brian Kary, MnDOT’s traffic operations director.
With any new bridge and road project, he said, traffic patterns shift as motorists find new routes.
Some of the motorists on the new bridge might have diverted from the Interstate 94 bridge at Hudson, Wis. Vehicle crossings on I-94 in Minnesota declined from 88,600 two weeks before the new bridge opened to 86,300 two weeks afterward, Kary said.
Seasonal changes and recreational travel also will influence traffic counts on the St. Croix River bridge and area highways, he said.
The new bridge was built to accommodate 71,500 vehicles a day, according to MnDOT.
When the new bridge was being built at Oak Park Heights, engineers said they expected heavier traffic because the bridge would draw motorists who avoided congestion on the old one.
In addition, the Osceola bridge north of Stillwater closed for repairs for most of September.
The WisDOT numbers show more vehicles traveling east on the new bridge — an average of 14,369 vehicles daily — than heading west, 13,776.
Data also shows that bridge crossings, both east and west, diminished somewhat since the first tally was taken Aug. 10.
MnDOT’s first sensor on Hwy. 36, about 3 miles west of the bridge, shows traffic increasing by 2,000 vehicles a day in both east and west lanes. Farther west, at Manning Avenue toward Interstate 694, traffic has increased by an average of about 1,000 vehicles daily.
Daily one-way traffic varies by location and time on Hwy. 36, ranging from a low of about 14,000 on some days to a high of more than 27,000 on others.
Many commuters crossing from Wisconsin work at major employers such as Andersen Windows in Bayport and the state prisons at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights.
MnDOT hasn’t measured traffic in downtown Stillwater since the Lift Bridge closed.