Friday, April 29, 2011

High Cost Brings New Controversy to the Stillwater Bridge Debate

The proposed St. Croix River Crossing has been a highly debated and controversial project for many years due to environmental factors and the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act however, it has gained more attention recently due to its large price tag and the fiscal impact it will have on Minnesotans. The budget for the proposed bridge can be seen on this Mn DOT fact sheet. At over an estimated $600 Million, the St. Croix River Crossing is more than twice as expensive as the I-35W Bridge replacement that cost approximately $234 Million as seen here.

The I-35W Bridge replacement project was build under budget and ahead of schedule, completed in only 339 days. Some of the success of the bridge replacement project can be attributed to the design-build process that allows construction to begin while final design stages are still in process because the bridge designers and contractors work together from the beginning phases or the project. Due to this process, time and thus money are saved.

The design-build project has been gaining popularity in Minnesota. Since 2001, Mn DOT has awarded six Best-Value design-build projects. The projects can be viewed here.

The cost of the bridge is not the only concern. It will serve a relatively small proportion of the Metro population and many of those served will be Wisconsin residents. And that this bridge could further induce urban sprawl to Wisconsin. A Star Tribune article points out that the Wisconsin counties are some of the fastest growing in the region.

The questions that arise from the facts about the bridge's costs, the users of the bridge and how many people the project will serve, spark new controversy in the already heated battle over the replacement of the Stillwater Bridge. Is it fair to spend over $600 Million on a bridge that serves between 18,000 and 20,000 people? Is it fair that this project will be serving primarily Wisconsin residents, yet Wisconsin is paying a smaller proportion of the cost? If the proposed highway bridge is built versus a lower and slower bridge, will it further induce urban sprawl into Wisconsin? Many are scrutinizing this project for many reasons, environmental, and fiscal, what do you think?

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