Final Design for Stillwater Bridge may Exceed Budget

Announced plan includes 8-lane lift bridge, Callatrava-designed gusset suspension


The unveiled “lift bridge” design for the Saint Croix crossing.

Oak Park Heights, MN – Imagine speeding across a brand new Stillwater lift bridge, only inches from the pristine waters of the Saint Croix. This bit of science fiction may soon become science fact, according to the final plans for the new Stillwater bridge crossing. At a press conference this morning at the Oak Park Heights city hall, a group of politicans, developers, and engineers unveiled the new plans for the approved Stillwater freeway that will connect the Northeast Twin Cities with acres of empty Wisconsin farmland. The final plans include an 8-lane lift bridge feature and a “gusset plate suspension column” designed by internationally-rewknonwed Spanish-born architect Santiago Callatrava. The new design is expected to make the future Saint Croix crossing, slated for completion in 2014, into an international symbol of Minnesota’s “cultural capital.”

The only catch? According to the URS Corporation, the engineering firm in charge of the project, the final bridge design will exceed the bridge’s original $859 million budget. Because of the improved design features, revised estimates of the bridge’s pricetag may reach $1.5 Billion (or approximately one-third the price of a tailfin on an F-35 stealth “joint strike fighter” warplane). However, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, both on hand at the conference, declared in a bipartisan announcement that they are confident that Federal appropriations can be found to cover the increased costs. “This bridge will represent the future of Minnesota-Wisconsin friendship, a bridge to the 20th century,” Senator Klobuchar announced. “This bridge will stand for freedom,” added Bachmann, “a permanent tribute to the liberatarian freeway construction principles on which this country was founded.”

Dozens of developers, local officials, and one commuter from rural Wisconsin were on hand to attend Monday’s annoucement, which revealed to the public for the first time the final design specifications of the new bridge. The design will break new ground in bridge engineering, including the first 8-lane elevated lift panel anywhere in the world. In addition, the bridge design includes a innovative suspension column designed by the architect Santiago Callatrava, known internationally for his landmark bridges.


Another view of the final design.

Callatrava’s other bridge designs include the bridge at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the “artisinal wire cage” pedestrian bridge crossing Interstate 35W at 5th Street SE, which pioneered the design style known today as “derelicte.”

The inclusion of the “lift bridge” feature caused particular excitement in the group of civic leaders and luxury land developers gathered at the City Hall. “Lift bridges have always been synonymous with Stillwater,” said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, who served on the design committee. “If a two-lane lift bridge is good, then an 8-lane lift bridge is even better,” he continued.

The Stillwater bridge project, approved last year by the Federal government, solves a long-standing problem of people driving slowly though downtown Stillwater, where traffic counts had reached the dangerous threshold of 4,000 cars per day, leading led many people to stroll the sidewalks of the riverfront town and shop for antiques, candles, and hard candy.

Yet the bridge has been seen as slightly controversial by some. In order to procurre funding, the bridge project involved overturning for the first time environmental protections on America’s Scenic and Wild Rivers Act, the legacy of Minnesota’s increasingly inconsequential ex-presidential candidate Walter Mondale. “This sets a dangerous precendent,” said Gosh Douheck, lead transportation organizer for the Northstar Chatper of the Sierra Club. “I worry that  this decision and our misguided government priorities will speed construction of the controversial Wile E. Coyote Memorial Freeway, slated to dangle over the Grand Canyon,” Douheck added.

A MN-DOT engineer explains innovative design features during today’s announcement.

Others at today’s announcement did not seem worried. “This bridge represents a statement by the Federal government and the transportation departments of Minnesota and Wisconsin,” added Carol Molnau, ex-acting Commissioner of MN-DOT, who attended for some reason. “This bridge says that we are here. We are still making roads through empty farmland. America can sleep easy tonight.”

The final design is being impelmented by URS Corporation, a well-known bridge firm with a track record of innovative bridge design. “The secret to economic vitality is planned obsolescence,” said H. Thomas Hicks, URS Vice-President of Redundancy. “Our innovative partnership with Santiago Callatrava on the gusset plate design will send shockwaves through the world of infrastructure design.” URS, based in  San Francisco, is one of the foremost bridge design firms in the world. The company got its start with the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State, still held up as an example of noteworthy bridge design in engineering and physics classes around the nation. Locally, their projects include the famous 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis, first constructed in 1964, as well as the award-winning Martin Sabo bridge over the Midtown Greenway. “This bridge will continue a long line of engineering success stories,” continued Hicks, “and will mean thousands of jobs for Minnesota construction firms and emergency responders.”

Audience reception to the project was generally positive. “This new bridge looks purdy,” said George Farmsted, who drives from rural Wisconsin to Minnesota at least once per week. “I’ll save two minutes on to dinner at the Woodbury Olive Garden,” he explained. Construction for the bridge is slated to begin next month, and the bridge will be open to the public by 2014.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.