A plan to build a new bridge across the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin cleared another major hurdle Monday. The federal government signed off on the environmental impact study for the span that will cross the St. Croix near Stillwater.
The new crossing would replace the current two-lane lift bridge in downtown Stillwater, which is more than 70 years old and nearing the end of its useful life.
A new four-lane bridge would relieve congestion that fills downtown every day, as commuters line up to cross the old lift bridge. The lift bridge would remain open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
A federal transportation official describes the EIS approval as a major step in the planning process, and now clears the way for Minnesota and Wisconsin to begin planning in earnest.
Nick Thompson, are project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, says the bridge now carries a pricetag of about $485 million.
"That's split between Wisconsin and Minnesota, and includes the new roadway, new bridge and then some other elements -- a new trail system," says Thompson. "And preservation of the lift bridge. And so by 2010 it's a very large project."
Thompson says construction of a new St. Croix River bridge won't begin before 2009, and could easily be off into the next decade before state and federal money is found to complete the project.
Officials from local, state and federal agencies have been meeting for more than two years to try settle differences over the span, which would cross the federally-protected waterway. Opponents have argued the new bridge will open western Wisconsin to sprawl the region is not prepared to handle.