WASHINGTON -- Legislation for a new St. Croix River bridge took another leap forward in Congress on Thursday when it passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, would grant an exemption to the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to allow the $690 million bridge project to proceed. The Minnesota Democrat's bill and companion legislation from U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., now await action by the full Senate and House.

Klobuchar's bill passed with support from both Republicans and Democrats, including Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who is on the committee. Two Democrats voiced opposition, including committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman.

Bingaman, who allowed the bill to pass by voice vote, said afterward that he has reservations because of the precedent it would set. "One of the fundamental assumptions we make in protecting important natural areas is that those areas will remain protected forever," he said. "In my opinion, waiving the protections of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act sets a dangerous precedent."

Klobuchar said she now will work to move her bill to a vote on the crowded Senate calendar. "We have to be open to all possibilities -- that we get it attached to something, that we have a single vote on it," she said. "The vote on this bill was by unanimous support with the Republicans and a number of Democrats supporting it, which shows that we would be able to get the votes to pass this bill."

Citing the saying, "It's not over 'til it's over," Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum said in an interview Thursday that she continues to make the case to her House colleagues that the current bridge proposal is too big and costly.

"We can put people to work right now fixing, repairing, replacing a part of the over 1,000 bridges across Minnesota that are structurally deficient," she said. "The Stillwater bridge is not the only bridge in that category."

The Wild and Scenic Rivers exemption would allow construction to begin on a four-lane bridge at Oak Park Heights, which would divert traffic from the 80-year-old two-lane Stillwater Lift Bridge.

Jeremy Herb • 202-408-2723 Twitter: @StribHerb