The start to the finish of a project many St. Croix Valley residents thought would never happen began with shovels of dirt Tuesday.
A bipartisan group of politicians and officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin gathered Tuesday afternoon in Stillwater’s Lowell Park for a ceremonial groundbreaking on the St. Croix River Crossing bridge project.
Players in the project from U.S. senators and representatives to Wisconsin Gov. Paul Walker to local mayors, even a man who attended the Lift Bridge groundbreaking when he was 15 years old, all appeared at the Water Street Inn to mark the occasion.
“I’ve heard lots of comments over the years from people who said they’d been hearing about it for awhile, that they’re grandfather had talked about it and that they doubted even their great-great grand kids would see it get built,” said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki. “For awhile, my kids thought I was working on a dam as well with our spouses saying, ‘Can you pick up the kids,’ followed by a ‘Sorry, I have a damn bridge meeting.’ But now after hours of work, long nights, and many meetings, that bridge is going to be finished and I can say, Let’s build this bridge.”
The $650 million project, which has been an issue since the days of President Harry Truman, kicked off with pomp, circumstance and bands from Stillwater Area and New Richmond High schools. Also present were FHWA Division Administrator Derrell Turner, Wisconsin Reps. Sean Duffy, and Ron Kind, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton were unable to attend the event due to scheduling conflicts.
The speakers thanked everyone for their bipartisan effort and said the start of the project culminated years of hard work and dedication from citizens who kept working and pushing for the new span despite congressional red tape over safety concerns.
“Time has passed, I think it’s great to have a new bridge,” said Amos Schultz, the former 15-year-old. “I thought the old one would last forever, but it’s different times now.”
“This is a great example of bipartisanship with people pushing aside all their political persuasions to work together outside of their parties. It’s also a look toward Washington D.C., and we all know how that town is, but to show Republicans and Democrats working together to get this done was great,” Duffy said.
Both Bachmann and Klobuchar acknowledged each other’s assistance getting the bill through Congress and thanked the communities and surrounding areas for their cooperation and collaboration throughout the process.
“The name of this bridge should be the cooperation bridge,” Walker said. “To see the cooperation in Congress, in the House and Senate all too often we crave leadership. Today is the day that we get to celebrate, say thank you, and congratulate you on getting your delegations together to make this possible.”
“It was an incredible team effort. This project does not divide two states, it unites them,” Klobuchar said.
In a letter, Franken congratulated bridge supporters for their work getting construction started on the span.
“As everyone here knows too well, the path to arriving at this point was not an easy one. This bridge has been the focus of dialogue for decades,” Franken writes. “Many people before us laid the groundwork that was needed for this bridge to become reality and, eventually, the torch was passed to us. In collaboration with Gov. Dayton, Sen. Klobuchar, Rep. Bachmann, and our Wisconsin counterparts, we were able to remove legislative barriers to moving this project forward.”
“I remember an essay my son wrote when he was in grade school about ‘Will there ever be a Stillwater bridge.’ He’s 29 years old today,” said Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber said. “There’s still lots of work ahead of us and I want to thank everybody involved in the process so far and I look forward to seeing things go smoothly.”
Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle assured those at the ceremony that the new bridge, when finished, would not harm the St. Croix River’s scenic beauty.
“Its design is going to work with the beautiful river,” he said. “And I’ve been told numerous times, ‘Yes commissioner, it will be on time and under budget.’ “
Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]