Yet another view on the proposed Stillwater bridge to Wisconsin. This time from Micky Cook, a Stillwater city council member in the Pioneer Press.
There are roughly 18,000 commuters who use the Stillwater lift bridge during rush hours on weekdays. The cost of the new bridge is $668 million. Rebuilding the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis cost less than half that amount, $261 million. How can we justify such an outrageous expense in this economy to accommodate a Wisconsin commuter corridor? According to MnDOT, 75 percent of weekday trips are commuters coming from Wisconsin. There already is a major freeway bridge roughly five miles south of the proposed site on Interstate 94 that connects to a network of highways in Wisconsin.
We all know the litany of economic ills we face. Gas prices are approaching an all-time high, a record number of homes are in foreclosure, people have lost their jobs and there is no more local government aid to help municipalities maintain services. The price tag on this project warrants serious discussion. If we do have that kind of money, shouldn’t we use it to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of existing bridges and roads?
Isn’t this really just another development story? The current contingent pushing hard for a new bridge argues it is for the greatest possible good. We need to ask for whom and at what cost?
Ms. Cook also proposes some alternative solutions to deal with traffic in the area caused by commuters.
What about metering traffic lights or negotiating with the Coast Guard for a change in the lift bridge schedule to reduce the number of times the bridge is lifted during peak times? We could post the lift schedule and ask MnDOT to set up a traffic notice at the I-694 and I-494 interchange off of Highway 36, alerting drivers of bridge delays and redirecting them to alternate routes. We could lobby to make the lift bridge one-way heading west in the morning and eastbound for the afternoon commute. Big employers in the area could provide shuttle services and offer incentives for Wisconsin employees to use it from a Park & Ride on the other side of the river. Stillwater could use reserve officers to direct traffic during critical commute times and on busy summer weekends.
I’m sure there are other traffic control measures that could be implemented. Not all solutions have to cost outrageous sums of money. But it’s not as exciting as building a big new shiny bridge. And it goes without saying, if the lift bridge poses a real safety risk, it should be shut down immediately.
A very cheap traffic control measure not mentioned would be closing the lift bridge to car traffic. I don’t believe this would have much ill effect on Stillwater, and would quickly solve traffic problems caused by commuters (I think they’d still have a lot of traffic, which is a good thing for downtown).
P.S. I really don’t intend for this blog to be all Stillwater bridge, all the time, I promise. Things have just been a little busy lately.