Stillwater Lift Bridge Closes; World Doesn’t End

Stillwater Lift BridgeIn a taste of what the world would be like if a new boondoggle St. Croix River Bridge were never built, the Stillwater Lift Bridge closed on September 10 for a 3-month rehabilitation project. Thus far, the world has not ended.

It should be remembered that one of the key arguments for the new bridge project was not only that the Lift Bridge is woefully deficient — as of its 2005 inspection, it had a “sufficiency rating” of 2.8 on a 100 point scale — and that the traffic is unsuited for downtown Stillwater, but that it is “necessary” so people need not go south to I94 or north to Osceola/MN243 to cross the river. The cost of the project is estimated at $690 million, to carry 16,000 vehicles a day. The math is dreadful.

It should be noted that the ongoing rehabilitation project schedule for the Lift Bridge will not magically make it meet legal definitions of sufficiency. Many of these projects are designed to avoid having the bridge get stuck in an up position, which is valuable whether the bridge is in use for cars, or if it is part of a new bicycle loop.

While the bridge is closed and the world is not ending, though, the Coalition for the St. Croix River Crossing continues to raise money to “advocate” for the new bridge. Which was approved already, mind you. Because “To get anything through Congress in an environment like today, and then let some other outside group to use a lawsuit or some other bureaucratic process to stop the bridge would be tragic,” according to their spokesperson.

Tragic. Failure to spend $600 million that could be used to repair every deficient bridge in the state is tragic? Failure to encourage sprawl is tragic? I feel like someone is missing a sense of proportion, and I’m fairly certain it’s not me, based on past postings about this bridge project by others.

If anything, the fact that the bridge can be closed for 3 months at a crack without the world ending, the bridges at I94 and MN243 becoming overly congested, or, really, much impact on most citizens is telling, is it not?

Still, there are 84 days to go. Maybe the world will end. Maybe the $600 million will magically make sense. What do you think?

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!

6 thoughts on “Stillwater Lift Bridge Closes; World Doesn’t End

  1. BB

    I am really glad we are going into finically insane. No one can see how ridiculous all of this is?

    Who do you vote for they are all insane!!

    Or do we just drive off the cliff of debt?

    However to put that in comparison the two presidents will put down for cash to win?

    200 million?

  2. Alex

    You think the world hasn't ended? It takes like FIVE MINUTES longer to get from my Somerset mcmansion to the Menards on 36. This is hell!

  3. Julie Kosbab Post author

    Come now. We all know that owners of Somserset McMansions do not shop at Menards. Menards is too downmarket.

    Minimally, they shop at Home Depot or Lowes.

  4. ralph Larson

    I have lived in Bayport for more than 30 years and am well aware of the problems the traffic causes in downtown Stillwater where the congestion and pollution are objectionable. Probably the worse problem is caused by those who drive through residential sections to circumvent the backed-up traffic on highway 36/95 at the bridge. The real problem is not the bridge, the problem is Stillwater. Driving through Stillwater it is obvious that the main cause of congestion are the various stop lights and sharp turns at the bridge.

    With only 9,000 vehicles per day it is easy to figure that a two-lane bridge unobstructed at each end could carry the traffic and there would be no problem!! If for example, if the traffic moved slowly at 30 mph with a distance between cars of 50 feet, the bridge could handle 3000 cars per hour. There might be a little slow-down during rush hour, during the periods that Andersen Windows has shift changes as many employees live in Wisconsin, or during the boating season when the lift bridge is raised during non-rush hours.

    The need for a four lane $700,000,000 bridge at Stillwater is hard to justify. The bridge primarily serves commuters from St. Croix County because Wisconsin east of this county is very sparsely populated. The major cities serviced by the bridge are Holton, Hudson, Somerset, New Richmond and Boomer. These cities have a population of 30,000 people while the population of St.Croix County is 85,000 in the incorporated areas. Looking at these numbers, it is hard to see how these few people would need such a big bridge. The prospect for St. Croix County to grow substantially is slim. In fact last year, the total bridge count dropped from 18,000 to 17,000 perhaps caused by the employment situation/economy.

  5. Charles Marohn

    This is a brilliant piece. Nice job.

    @RalphLarson, I agree with you and I get your points. I'm going to gently challenge one thing and that is the notion that 30 mph would be slow.

    While we perceive the speed we travel (the reason we are content to sit at traffic signals if it means we can drive fast when it is our turn), the metric we really should be judging is travel time. The current bridge is 1050 feet. At 45 mph, it will take 15.9 seconds to cross. At 30 mph, you go to 23.9 seconds. So the change in design speed buys you eight seconds of travel time. For most of us, that is an imperceptible amount of time out of our day.

    I would advocate for even slower speeds throughout the downtown of Stillwater. If you have a design speed of 15 mph, it is going to take you 48 seconds to cross the bridge, but you could eliminate the signal lights and, with the slow moving traffic, put shared space intersections throughout the entire downtown. No more sitting at signals, which is going to save you far more time than the 31.8 additional seconds you would spend on the bridge.

    Don't let people tell you what the design speed should be without asking them about the travel time.

  6. Julie Kosbab

    I've always felt that closing the Lift Bridge to traffic is just sense at this point. There comes a time in every bridge's life where you just have to admit it's not a good idea to send cars over it. There are already serious restrictions as far as load and height in place (that are occasionally violated, to hijinks and chaos).

    What people almost inevitably cite when discussing the "need" for the bridge are the backups during rush hour, and the backups when bridge incidents occur that disrupt the expectation of the bridge being usable. Closures like the current closure show that if users expect the bridge to be closed, it's more than workable.

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