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St. Croix bridge construction underway

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St. Croix Crossing work
Crews begin work on the pylon supports for the St. Croix Crossing bridge across the St. Croix River in Oak Park Heights, Minn. Monday, May 28, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Construction on a half-billion dollar bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin got its ceremonial start Tuesday when community members joined local officials and members of Congress for a ground breaking on the banks of the St. Croix River.

It was a moment rife with symbolism. The groundbreaking was attended by two mayors, six members of Congress, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Gov. Mark Dayton was represented by Commisioner Charles Zelle of the  Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Lawmakers spoke of how they had bridged divides to pass funding for the St. Croix Crossing. Many cited the bridge as one of the few signs of bipartisanship to come out of Washington in recent years. 

"The greatest thing that happened is that you looked to Washington D.C. and how dysfunctional that town is; listen, you saw the House and the Senate working together, you saw Republicans and Democrats working together to get this bridge done," said Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin. "Our colleagues are like, 'what the heck is up with the St. Croix River Bridge.'"

"It's a lesson that the river doesn't divide our two states, it unites them. This project doesn't divide our states, it unites them," said Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Lawmakers break ground
Wisconsin and Minnesota lawmakers ceremonially break ground for the St. Croix Crossing bridge in Stillwater, Minn. Monday, May 28, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"As has been mentioned, the Vikings and Packers don't divide our two states, they unite them," Klobuchar joked. "Ok that goes too far. It's not true."

Joking aside, the St. Croix Crossing is decades in the making.

Work is now underway for the new four-lane highway-style bridge that is expected to open in fall 2016. The project will connect Oak Park Heights on the Minnesota side with St. Joseph on the Wisconsin side of the St. Croix River.

The project is expected to cost between $580 million and $675 million. The bridge will replace the Stillwater Lift Bridge build in 1931. At times, the old two-lane bridge was a spot for traffic congestion that filled the streets of the historic downtown.

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's district once included Stillwater.

"If we didn't build this bridge we w ould lose jobs, we would lose growth, we would lose an economy and we would lose safety," Bachmann said. "All of us are going to gain from this. Not just now, but in the future."

Some aspects of the design and roadwork pieces of the project are already underway.

The bridge foundations are under construction now. Another contract to build the rest of the bridge will be awarded this fall.

"That's the much bigger contract. That's the much more visible contract in terms of work and will really produce what this bridge is going to look like," said Jon Chiglo, project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Bachmann and Klobuchar
Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sen. Amy Klobuchar ceremonially break ground for the St. Croix Crossing bridge in Stillwater, Minn. Monday, May 28, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

It'll take time before it starts looking like a bridge, he said.

While everyone at the groundbreaking spoke in support of the St. Croix Crossing, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said the process took too long.

"I don't want to be the skunk in the room," Johnson said.

"If we would've built this bridge just 20 years ago it would've cost about $80 million. Now, hopefully it will cost under $700 million."

The bridge required an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a move that environmental groups opposed.

Walker, Bachmann and Klobuchar
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks with Rep. Michele Bachmann and Sen. Amy Klobuchar during the St. Croix Crossing groundbreaking program in Stillwater, Minn. Monday, May 28, 2013.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

After the speeches finished, it was time for the symbolic work.

As wind ensembles from Minnesota and Wisconsin high schools belted out patriotic tunes, the group of mayors, members of Congress and senators lined up with gold-colored shovels to stab at a pile of dirt, and bury for a time their partisan differences.