Sold on Somerset, without a tube


Why in the world wouldn't you want to live in this little western Wisconsin town?

It's nestled in the gorgeous St. Croix River valley, just a few minutes east of Stillwater.

And it has the sublimely beautiful Apple river flowing by it, which is even more attractive without the tubers who were mostly absent on the weekday I visited.

Modern day settlers have been beating a path to Somerset and towns all up and down the river valley for years, buying homes, raising kids.

And driving to jobs elsewhere.

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Yep, there's work in those towns, but not enough.

One of the reasons, local boosters say, is that naughty old Stillwater lift bridge.

It's cute in a Norman Rockwell sort of way, but the 80-year-old, two lane span with a 30 mile-an-hour speed limit and weight limits that prohibit some heavy trucks is a chokepoint.

Companies in a hurry don't want their widgets tied up in a traffic jam or making a detour to one of the other three crossings over the St. Croix River at Taylors Falls, Osceola or Hudson.

That's one reason boosters of western Wisconsin economic development want a new St. Croix River bridge, and the one they want is the $633 million model - the version with all the bells and whistles including four, 65 mph freeway-style lanes of traffic and three miles on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin of new interchanges and roadway.

The opponents are saying, 'wait;' and especially the Minnesota critics are asking why their tax dollars should be subsidizing development in Wisconsin.

Watch for new and exciting episodes in this telenovela in September when members of Congress return and decide if they'll give thumbs up to the new span.

To entertain us in the meantime, here are some fun numbers from the Minnesota Department of Transportation bridge engineer Nancy Daubenberger, comparing bridge traffic over the Stillwater lift bridge, which is at about 17,900 vehicles a day (down slightly from last year), with some others:

Similar bridges (2-lane river crossings) Average Annual Daily Traffic:

inter-state bridge at Osceola = 6,300

I-94 bridge at Hudson = 91,000

TH 61/Miss River in Hastings is 36,000

TH 63/Miss River in Red Wing is 11,700

TH 60/Miss River in Wabasha is 5,600

How does that rank with a big one?

Daily traffic volume over the Mississippi on the new 35W bridge in Minneapolis is 126,000 vehicles.