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By: Bill Rubin, Executive Director of St. Croix EDC
On August 2, 2017 several thousand people along with local, state, and national dignitaries, helped open the St. Croix Crossing, a joint project between the Wisconsin and Minnesota transportation departments. This week marks three years since the opening of the St. Croix Crossing. I wanted to take this time to look back at how we got here.
The project endured a long history, some say going back to the 1970’s. Others say the project’s history goes back to flooding in the early 1950s, or just about 20-years after the lift bridge opened in downtown Stillwater, Minnesota in 1931. The term ‘historic’ was used to describe the lift bridge, but over time it became functionally obsolete and needed to be replaced.
The new crossing was constructed over the protected St. Croix River under the watchful eyes of critics and supporters. It took an executive order by one U.S. President and a signature on federal legislation by another to make this crossing a reality.
In September 2002, President George W. Bush issued an executive order to speed up federal environmental studies of major transportation projects throughout the U.S. The federal Department of Transportation (DOT) created a list of high priority transportation projects slowed by reviews and legal disputes. Replacing the lift bridge was among the first ten or so projects on the national list.
The environmental streamlining process brought numerous agencies and organizations together in hopes a consensus could be reached on replacing the lift bridge. Between June 2003 and July 2006, a stakeholder group met at the Stillwater City Hall in Minnesota to find common ground. At its last meeting, the group recommended a bridge design and corridor about one mile south of the lift bridge.
In November 2006, the Federal Highway Administration issued its Record of Decision, meaning all project studies and reviews were complete, putting the new river crossing project in line for future funding and construction. Public comment of the Record of Decision remained open for 180-days. Near the close of public comment, a lawsuit was filed.
Additional environmental reviews were done by the National Park Service (NPS), one of the participants in the stakeholder process. NPS recommended that no bridge be constructed over the St. Croix regardless of location or design because of its protected qualities under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. However, NPS outlined how to obtain an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
An effort to secure the exemption soon started in Washington, D.C. It was first approved by the U.S. Senate and then by the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama signed the legislation in March 2012.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) immediately started work on test borings into the bedrock beneath the river bottom. Those test results gave prospective bridge construction bidders valuable information on conditions and stability. Construction began in 2013 and was completed in mid-2017, ready for traffic.
When one bridge opens, another one closes. The historic lift bridge in Stillwater closed simultaneous to the opening of the St. Croix Crossing. In June 2020, the lift bridge re-opened for walkers, runners, and bicyclists to enjoy. Multi-use paths in Wisconsin and Minnesota connect the old lift bridge to the new crossing downstream, creating a nearly five-mile loop.
Happy birthday to the St. Croix Crossing and welcome to the newly transformed historic lift bridge (pictured below). Both are outstanding amenities in the St. Croix Valley of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
View of the re-opened lift bridge from the water.
View of the bicycle and walking path on the re-opened lift bridge.