Oak Park Heights needs to sign off on St. Croix project.
Thursday's scheduled vote by the Oak Park Heights City Council will determine whether a key portion of the St. Croix River Crossing project will move forward, or whether costs will be unnecessarily escalated because of delays should the municipality refuse to sign off on the plan. That would be outrageous given the decades it took to get key stakeholders to agree on the project, which included bipartisan support of Wisconsin and Minnesota governors, Congress and President Obama.
The disagreement isn't over how the new bridge will be constructed between Oak Park Heights and St. Joseph, Wis. Rather, it's about the approach work to the bridge that runs through Oak Park Heights. The Minnesota Department of Transportation needs municipal consent to move forward. The sticking point has been the city's outdated water and sewer lines, which are in the pathway. City officials estimate that it could cost as much as $3 million to move, replace or work around the lines.
The city previously signed off on a layout, but balked when MnDOT changed plans at a later date. After years of negotiations between the two parties, it's time to resolve the issue. Earlier this year, Congress signed off on a bill to allow construction of a much-needed, four-lane, highway-style bridge to replace the deteriorating Stillwater lift bridge. Congressional authorization was needed because the river is protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki wisely put the critical Oak Park Heights vote in perspective: "To go through a seemingly impossible process on the national level and win only to fail on the local level over a matter of dollars would sting." That's a message the City's Council members should keep in mind Thursday.