About that Senate hearing on the St. Croix River bridge

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2011 - 7:22 PM
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U.S. Sen. Al Franken

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A U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Thursday on a proposed St. Croix River bridge project estimated to cost up to $700 million appeared to be something of a love fest.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, who sits on the committee, spoke in favor of the proposal. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, his Democratic colleague spearheading the Senate legislation, testified on behalf of the project.
 
The mayor of Stillwater drove more than 1,000 miles to offer his list of reasons why Congress should back the bridge project. Even Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, dropped in to say that he, too, was on board.
 
Then came Roger Tomten, a Stillwater resident who, by comparison, seemed a bit of a killjoy at the proceedings. He dubbed Klobuchar’s proposal the “boondoggle bridge.”
 
“It’s too much bridge at too high a price,” he said.
 
No matter that various bridge proposals had been studied for three – yes three – decades. No matter than 27 stakeholders spent three years studying proposals and all but one signed off on the proposed project.
 
No matter that if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the Sept., monies for the bridge project will be lost, according to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton.
 
Tomten, who didn’t appear intimidated in the least, insisted that his three-lane “lower and slower” proposal was the best option. Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki and others said they’d been down that road before and rejected it.
 
Harycki described Stillwater as “a beautiful city with an enormous traffic problem caused by an 80-year-old bridge.” He insisted that Tomten’s lower bridge would “obliterate” the scenic value of the river in downtown Stillwater.
 
In fairness, Tomten isn’t the only person to object to the bigger, four-lane bridge. To his misfortune, those high-profile leaders only submitted written testimony. (That means you Walter Mondale and Rep. Betty McCollum.)
 
And subcommittee member Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, wondered if there wasn't something wrong with the legislation since it's taken 30 years to get this far.
 
Dayton, a Democrat, and Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker each sent written testimony in support of the bigger bridge, which would be built just south of Stillwater. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who’s leading the bipartisan support in the U.S. House, issued a press release in support of the hearings.
 
An act of Congress is needed to build the bridge because the river is protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which Mondale helped to write. The current two-lane Stillwater Lift Bridge is rapidly deteriorating, but can’t be torn down because it’s a protected a historic landmark.
 
“I want to make clear that this is a unique situation with unique needs,” Franken told the committee. “We are not declaring open season on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.”
 
 Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.
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