Highway Bridge Construction Could Rollback National River Protections
Location: Minnesota, Wisconsin
The St. Croix River begins in northwest Wisconsin and flows south, forming the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin and joining the Mississippi River near the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
In 1968, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was established as one of the original eight Wild and Scenic Rivers, and four years later the Lower section was designated. The river provides a unique wilderness-like experience for outdoor recreation opportunities in a growing metropolitan area.
Now a proposal to build a costly superhighway bridge would undermine the values that make the river a regional and national treasure – and set a dangerous precedent for other Wild and Scenic Rivers nationwide.
It is clear that the existing Stillwater Bridge has outlived its usefulness as a primary route for vehicles to cross the river. Several proposals for a replacement bridge have been evaluated over the years. Though the specifics have changed, a bigger, faster, four-lane highway has consistently been the “preferred” alternative put forward while more reasonably sized options have been dismissed. This four-lane freeway alternative is currently estimated to cost up to $690 million of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and federal taxpayer’s dollars.
In 2010, after the US District Court decision, the NPS was forced to reevaluate the current bridge proposal and concluded that the massive bridge would damage on the Lower St. Croix’s scenic and recreational values. But now, legislation has been introduced in Congress that, if enacted, would not only result in construction of a bridge that will harm the St. Croix River, it would also set a dangerous precedent for all Wild and Scenic Rivers under pressure from those who seek to rollback river protection.
According to the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act has never been exempted for a transportation project, or for any project of this magnitude.
What Must Be Done
The National Park Service has determined that a proposed costly superhighway bridge is inconsistent with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. If Congress allows legislation to override the Act, it will greatly impact the St. Croix River and set a dangerous precedent for all Wild and Scenic Rivers.
This legislation must be rejected and the Governors of Minnesota and Wisconsin should reevaluate alternative bridge proposals.