A bipartisan, two-state delegation of political officials welcomed the beginning of construction of a new bridge across the St. Croix River near Stillwater on Tuesday.
Democrats and Republicans from Minnesota and Wisconsin praised each other for finally convincing the U.S. Congress and both state Legislatures to join together to replace the old Stillwater Lift Bridge.
The new span will cross the St. Croix just south of Stillwater, connecting St. Joseph, Wis., with Oak Park Heights, Minn. It is to be open in 2016, at an estimated cost between $571 and $676 million, including approaches on both sides of the river.
Joining ceremonies near the old bridge were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy and Ron Kind. Minnesota was represented by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle.
Mayors Ken Harycki of Stillwater, representing the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing, and Mary McComber of Oak Park Heights spoke of generations of work that led to this point.
"The new bridge didn't have political affiliation," Harycki told the ceremony. "It was neither a Democratic bridge nor a Republican bridge. It was simply a bridge that the community wanted since the days of President Truman."
Bachmann praised U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for backing the project. "He did understand that safety was first and foremost," she said. Klobuchar echoed that concern, saying residents feared the old bridge, with its vibrations and pieces occasionally falling into the river.
"As I know too well living six blocks from that eight-lane highway that fell down in the middle of the Mississippi River, it happens, and a bridge shouldn't fall down in the middle of America," Klobuchar said, referring to the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August of 2007.
Walker called the new project "a great partnership between both states. It was the state Legislatures in both states coming together ... really another great sign of cooperation."