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MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

St. Croix River Crossing Background

Severe traffic congestion in downtown Stillwater, safety problems on approach roadways, and delays caused by the operation of the Stillwater Lift Bridge have spurred the discussion of a new bridge crossing in Stillwater for many years. "Rush hour" delays and weekend backups, especially during the tourist season, frustrate residents and visitors alike.

Development of downtown Stillwater and northwestern Wisconsin as tourist destinations, commercial development along Highway 36 attracting employees and residents throughout the region, development in Wisconsin, and the economic strength of the Twin Cities metropolitan area as an employment center have contributed to increasing traffic volumes on Highway 36, Highway 95, in downtown Stillwater, State Highway 64, and across the Lift Bridge.  

Some drivers have avoided this congestion by finding alternate routes across the St. Croix River. Most drivers who can alternately use the 1-94 (Hudson), Highway 243 (Osceola), or United States Highway (USH) 8 (Taylor's Falls) bridges are already doing so. However, a considerable number of area residents or visitors are still dependent on the Stillwater Lift Bridge crossing for access to their homes, jobs, and shopping, and that number is expected to continue to grow in the future.  

As owners and operators of the bridge, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (Wis/DOT) have grown concerned about the condition of the Stillwater Lift Bridge and continued operations of the lift mechanism. Built in 1931,the Lift Bridge is approaching the age at which substantial investments will be required to keep the bridge operating, thus maintaining navigation on the St. Croix River. The narrow widths and functional deficiencies of the approach roadways are also of concern as the traffic on these roadways operates at or above capacity.

Identifying possible solutions to this transportation problem also requires consideration of the context in which this bridge and its adjoining roadways sit. The U.S. Congress has designated the St. Croix River, over which the Lift Bridge crosses, as a National Wild and Scenic River, designated for its scenic, recreational, and geologic values.

In addition, historic buildings, several of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are located throughout the Stillwater area, which is known as the "birthplace of Minnesota." The Stillwater Lift Bridge itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a testament to innovative engineering techniques in the early twentieth century. Historic archaeological sites can also be found adjacent to the riverbanks - the site of early industrial and recreational activities. The river valley supports an abundance of wildlife and aquatic species, including the endangered Higgin's Eye mussel, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and osprey.  The St. Croix River Valley is valued by residents and visitors alike for its combination of natural, historic, and scenic resources. Proposed solutions to the transportation problem should intend to minimize potential negative impacts on these resources and maintain the balance that creates a respected environment in which to live, work, and play.

Consideration of a replacement bridge crossing over the St. Croix River near Stillwater began in the early 1970s, but was not pursued because of a lack of funding. In the 1980s, Mn/DOT, Wis/DOT, and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) began working with the communities of Stillwater and Oak Park Heights in Minnesota, and St. Joseph Township in Wisconsin to identify possible solutions for a replacement crossing. The 1987 Scoping Decision Document/Final Study Outline for the Highway 36/State Highway 64 St. Croix River Crossing identified four broad corridors for a new river crossing both north and south of downtown Stillwater as well as two corridors in or near the downtown area. The 1990 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzed three of these corridors, along with a "No Action" Alternative and a Transportation System Management (TSM) Alternative, which examined various options to maximize use of the existing transportation system.

In April 1995, Mn/DOT, Wis/DOT, and FHWA completed a Final EIS and Section 4(f) Evaluation for a replacement bridge about 1,920 meters (6,300 feet) south of the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge. A Record of Decision (ROD) was issued by FHWA in July 1995, and work began on the final design of the river crossing and the approach roadways. Right-of-way was acquired, and site preparation work was initiated. In 1996, the National Park Service (NPS) evaluated the project under Section 7(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and found that the project, as proposed, would have a direct and adverse effect on the outstandingly remarkable scenic and recreational values for which the Lower St. Croix River was included in the National Wild and Scenic River System. As a result of this finding, federal permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard could not be issued for the project, and the project was not allowed to proceed. In April 1998, the U.S. District Court upheld the NPS determination.

In an effort to determine whether any crossing of the Lower St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was feasible near Stillwater, Mn/DOT and Wis/DOT invited Richard P. Braun, a retired Mn/DOT transportation commissioner, to perform an independent review of the project. Braun was asked to review the need for a replacement crossing and to investigate potential bridge alignment alternatives. In addition, he was asked to recommend an alignment and type of bridge structure that would be both feasible to construct and acceptable for implementation by the key interested parties. Between June and September of 1998, Braun conducted extensive discussions and meetings with many individuals and organizations, and facilitated public meetings with a 21-member advisory group (the St. Croix River Crossing Advisory Group) that included representatives from federal and state regulatory agencies, local and regional units of government, environmental groups, historic preservation groups, and chambers of commerce.  

Braun recommended a four-lane, deck-tied, steel arch bridge on an alignment 1, 100 meters (3,600 feet) south of the existing Stillwater Lift Bridge. The proposed bridge would cross the river perpendicularly and would be shorter than the 1995 Final EIS Preferred Alternative. The alignment would also take advantage of an existing ravine on the Wisconsin bluff, thereby reducing potential impacts on the Lower St. Croix Valley. A large majority of the St. Croix River Crossing Advisory Group agreed that they could accept the Braun recommendations.

Following the Braun process, NPS, FHWA, Wis/DOT, and Mn/DOT executed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) specifying the intention to use the Braun recommendations as a basis for a new bridge crossing alternative that would be evaluated in a Supplemental EIS. The agreement also stated that the NPS Section 7(a) review for this alternative would be completed concurrently with the Supplemental EIS.

Project development of the Braun Process and mitigation negotiations continued until the spring of 2000.

See below for recent history.

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Recent History of Agency/Institute/Facilitator/Stakeholder Interactions: (6/3/03)

Spring 2000: - completion of 1 ½ years of mitigation negotiations with the 10 Agency Group.

  • PST develops SDEIS to include removal of Lift Bridge.
  • Cultural Resource Agencies uncomfortable with proposal to remove Lift Bridge.
  • SDEIS sent to National Park Service (NPS) for Section 7(a) analysis.
  • DOI Secretary Babbitt and DOT Secretary Slater mtg.

Summer 2000: - DOI representative on August 1st presented Babbitt/Slater discussions.

  • PST incorporates enhanced mitigation package into SDEIS.
  • Enhanced mitigation package now includes 3 alternatives for Lift Bridge, along with conditions of additional federal funding and a new Lift Bridge owner:
    • Removal or Relocation
    • Conversion to a pier
    • Retention
  • DOT's and DNR's September 5th mtg on enhanced mitigation package.

Fall 2000: - PST edits SDEIS and requests Cooperating Agency comments.

  • PST requests NPS 7(a) evaluation.
  • PST reviews comments by Cooperating Agencies on October 18th.
  • PST reviews and comments on "factual information" used by NPS in the draft Section 7(a) evaluation.

Winter 2000: - PST edits SDEIS to incorporate appropriate Cooperating Agency comments, thereby completing the SDEIS.

  • 106th Congress ends with $5 million in Labor, Health, and Human Services bill for rehabilitation, repair, and restoration of the Lift Bridge.
  • NPS 7(a) evaluation completed on December 22nd.

January 12, 2001: Work suspended on project due to insufficient federal funding for the Lift Bridge mitigation alternatives, the inability of federal, state, and local agencies to reach a consensus on the disposition of the Lift Bridge, and failure to reach municipal consent of project.

Summer 2001: Minnesota Legislature passed bill regarding project which read: "Until July 1, 2002, the commissioner may not cancel, or remove from the commissioner's statewide transportation improvement program, the trunk highway project that would construct a new bridge across the St. Croix river at or near the terminus of marked trunk highway No. 36."

Fall 2001: U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution brought into project by Washington FHWA to resolve the environmental conflicts by gathering stakeholder interests, establishing a process for negotiations among the parties, providing recommendations, and setting an expected date of resolution.

Winter 2001: U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution's primary recommendation was to separate the outstanding issues related to the Lift Bridge from those related to the New Bridge.

January 25, 2002: Mn/DOT Commissioner Tinklenberg requests the 10 Agency Group (and the City of Oak Park Heights) support of U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution's primary recommendation to separate the outstanding issues related to the Lift Bridge from those related to the New Bridge.

Spring 2002: Minnesota Legislature passed bill regarding project which read: "Until July 1, 2003, the commissioner of transportation may not cancel or remove from the commissioner's statewide transportation improvement program, the trunk highway project that would construct a new bridge across the St. Croix river at or near the terminus of marked trunk highway No. 36. "

June 7, 2002: U.S. DOT, FHWA Administrator Peter's letter to Mn/DOT & Wis/DOT supporting the Institute's recommendation to separate the processes for the two bridges. Stated that Federal partners are willing to proceed as recommended by the Institute.

June 21, 2002: Mn/DOT & Wis/DOT joint press conference in Stillwater re-initiating the New Bridge and Lift Bridge processes.

July, 2002: Institute held teleconferences with transportation, natural, and cultural resource agencies and influential groups regarding facilitator selection criteria and New Bridge/Lift Bridge process relationships.

September, 2002: Facilitation firm called RESOLVE selected by multi agency and stakeholder panel. Institute prepared contract with RESOLVE.

Sept. 18, 2002: President Bush issued Executive Order 13274 to enhance environmental stewardship and streamline environmental review of transportation infrastructure projects. The St. Croix River Crossing project was added as one of the 7 projects nationwide covered by this Executive Order.

October 2002: PST and legal counsel reviews five process alternatives of separating the outstanding issues related to the Lift Bridge from those related to the New Bridge. PST recommends one of the five as the selected process alternative for this project

October 2002: PST met with Facilitators to discuss roles and responsibilities and PST's process recommendation.

November 2002: PST begins analysis for revising the Amended Scoping Decision Document with updated traffic forecasts, review of 3 Architects Proposal, and adjustments to the Wisconsin project termini

December 2002: Facilitators propose process which would now re-combine outstanding issues related to the Lift Bridge and those related to the New Bridge and the Facilitators also recommend that "alternatives" be studied

January 2003: PST completes analysis for revising the Amended Scoping Decision Document with updated traffic forecasts, review of 3 Architects Proposal, and adjustments to the Wisconsin project termini.

April 2003: Facilitators initiate Stakeholder Resolution Process - Operating Agreement and associated schedule

May 2003: TAT meeting to review and prepare summaries of alternatives from previous studies

June 2003: Stakeholder Group meetings facilitated by RESOLVE using the Stakeholder Resolution Process - Operating Agreement and associated schedule.

From 2003 until 2006: Stakeholder Group assisted in the development of the following documents:

  • November 2003 Amended Scoping Document and Draft Scoping Decision Document
  • March 2004 Amended Final Scoping Decision Document
  • August 2004 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement
  • June 2006 Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement

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Definitions:

10 Agency Group: FHWA, National Park Service, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, DOT's, DNR's, SHPO's, and City of Stillwater [Back to text]

Facilitators: Firm of RESOLVE's staff [Back to text]

Institute: U.S. Institute of Environmental Conflict Resolution [Back to text]

PST: Project Staff Team (FHWA, Wis/DOT and Mn/DOT staff) [Back to text]

SDEIS: Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement [Back to text]

Stakeholder Group: National Park Service (St. Croix National Scenic Riverway), Federal Highway Administration, US Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish and Wildlife, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, State Departments of Natural Resources, State Historic Preservation Offices, State Departments of Transportation, St. Croix County, St. Croix County Highway Commission, City of Stillwater, City of Oak Park Heights, Sierra Club, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Minnesota Preservation Alliance, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Stillwater Historic Preservation Commission, Rivertown Restoration, Friends of the St. Croix, Stillwater Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Croix Alliance for an Interstate Bridge, Stillwater Lift Bridge Association, and the Board of Realtors. [Back to text]

TAT: Technical Advisory Team (FHWA, Wis/DOT, Mn/DOT, Wis/DNR, Mn/DNR, NPS, Mn/SHPO, Wis/SHPO staff) [Back to text]

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NEPA Document History and Status (6/22/06)

  • October 1985 Draft Study Outline and Scoping Document.
  • January 1987 Scoping Decision Document/Final Study Outline.
  • March 1990 Draft EIS and Section 4(f) Evaluation.
  • February 1992 Design Public Hearing and Information Meeting.
  • April 1995 Final EIS and Section 4(f) Evaluation.
  • July 1995 Record of Decision.
  • December 1996 NPS Negative Finding under Section 7(a) of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
  • April 1998 U.S. District Court Judge Upholds NPS.
  • June 1998 Braun Facilitation Process Initiated.
  • September 1998 Braun Recommendations.
  • October 1998 MOU signed by NPS, FHWA, Wis/DOT and Mn/DOT
  • February 1999 Amended Scoping Decision Document.
  • January 2001 Supplemental Draft EIS prepared w/ 3 alternatives on disposition of Lift Bridge, but never released
  • November 2003 Amended Scoping Document and Draft Scoping Decision Document
  • March 2004 Amended Final Scoping Decision Document
  • August 2004 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement
  • June 2006 Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement
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