Now that the Lift Bridge is closed, one of Stillwater’s most historic streets will undergo a reconstruction to repair decades of heavy use.
The downhill stretch of 3rd Street, also known as County Road 23, was the scene of daily traffic backups over the years as Wisconsin commuters inched toward the downtown St. Croix River bridge. When a new four-lane bridge opened in Oak Park Heights in early August, the Lift Bridge closed permanently that same night, shifting motorists to the new route and away from 3rd Street.
“Over time, with the Lift Bridge closing, it’s going to have a lot less traffic than before,” said Gary Kriesel, the Washington County commissioner whose district includes Stillwater. The project was scheduled for 2018 but delayed to 2019 as county and city engineers work together to figure out how to fix deteriorating retaining walls along the route.
“We have to look at the potential historical nature of those walls,” said Frank Ticknor, the county design engineer working on the project.
3rd Street, in its heyday, was one of Stillwater’s most prominent streets, lined with mansions and studded with church steeples. Many of those yesteryear structures remain today, including Historic Courthouse at the top of the hill, but in recent years 3rd Street swarmed with cars as drivers jockeyed to cross the bridge.
Ticknor said concrete pavement poured 37 years ago on 3rd Street has deteriorated faster than it can be maintained. Curbs, gutters and sidewalks are falling apart as well, he said.
The 1,500-foot stretch of reconstruction, from Walnut Street at the top of the hill to Chestnut Street at the bottom, will include new underground utilities. The work should correct oddities such as telephone poles standing in the middle of sidewalks. Unlike most county roads made with asphalt, the new 3rd Street stretch will be paved with concrete to prevent downhill shifting, Ticknor said.
Commissioner Stan Karwoski, who represents Oakdale and the surrounding area, said the 3rd Street project is significant because “people want to see Stillwater’s neighborhoods.”
Commissioners approved a budget amendment Tuesday for $258,000 in state funding to allow a consultant, Alliant Engineering, to proceed with designs and reviews including an investigation into historical features along the route.
The reconstruction of the upper portion of 3rd Street, farther south from downtown, was completed a few years ago.