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Friday, July 15, 2011

A bridge too big and way too expensive

Elected officials and road proponents continue to peddle an oversized and expensive bridge over the St. Croix River at Stillwater, Minnesota -- a river that's a federally designated Wild and Scenic River.

In pushing Congress to release federal funding for a $700 million, 4-lane bridge, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ignored a proposal of the aptly-named "Sensible Stillwater Bridge Partnership" to build a far less expensive, tidier bridge that's far more appropriate for that setting.

There's no doubt the existing rickety lift bridge has got to go. (It would be spared and mothballed under any re-building scenario.) But spending $700 million on an oversized bridge in tight budget times, when there are so many infrastructure projects going wanting -- especially when there is an intestate highway bridge 6 miles to the south of this spot -- it is eminently sensible to go with a 3-laner at an estimated cost of just under $300 million.

That's a savings of at least $300 million that could be put to other road or transit projects.

Opponents of the mega-bridge have dubbed it the "Bachmann bridge," because of the enthusiastic support the bridge gets from the otherwise budget-hawkish Rep. Michelle Bachmann. It should be pointed out that support for the excessive bridge is bi-partisan, including Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind and the St. Croix County board of supervisors, a few of whom expect to do well in land speculation if a big bridge is built.

Those guys will cash on land development anyway, even with a more modest bridge. They could do the right thing and get behind the Sensible Stillwater Bridge push, be fiscally responsible, and help maintain the unique scenic status of the Lower St. Croix.

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