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Frequently Asked Questions

Hot Topics | Process/Policies | Congestion | Costs | Highway 36 | Design | Schedule | Other Questions

Hot Topics:

Q1. What is the problem?

A1. Stillwater and Houlton experience daily congestion, and because of the congestion crashes occur at twice the rate of a similar segment of roadway. In addition, the Lift Bridge's operating and maintenance schedules cause vehicular traffic delays, which adds congestion. Pedestrians using the facility also are frustrated by the lack of mobility. For a complete description of the problems, reasons why a project is being developed and the benefits, please see the Purpose and Need section

Q2. Where are the environmentally sensitive, protected resources?

A2. The project area contains a vast number of state and federally protected natural and cultural resources. Federal and state laws describe how these resources are to be addressed during project development. View a graphic showing the protected resources. Every effort is made to avoid or minimize impacts to these resources, but in areas where a project cannot avoid impacts, mitigation is needed to offset the impact. The project's mitigation package was developed during the Stakeholder process and offsets unavoidable project impacts on the riverway, historic resources, and other resources. The design of the new river bridge and project aesthetics are also part of the mitigation package.

Q3. What options have been considered to cross the river closer to the Lift Bridge: Alts D&E:

A3. Multiple options to cross the river closer to Stillwater were studied as part of the project development process and thoroughly reviewed by the project Stakeholders. These options are identified as Alternates D and E in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Assessment (SDEIS). Both options provide a new bridge crossing that crosses diagonally near the Oasis Cafe in Minnesota to the existing Hwy 64/36 roadway on the east end of the lift bridge. The difference between the Alternates D and E is that one of the options uses the lift bridge for westbound traffic. During the development of these options it was determined that they would have greater environmental impacts than the Preferred Alternative Package that was selected. Impacts were greater on protected historic properties, park properties, bluff areas, floodplains and wetlands, commercial properties and other areas. Alternative D and E were dropped because, in general, they did not solve the purpose and need of the project and had more significant environmental impacts on protected resources than the Preferred Alternative. For a complete description of all of the alternative considered, including Alternatives D and E, please see the SDEIS, Chapter 3 and then for reasons why Alternative D and E were not selected as the Preferred Alternative, please see the SFEIS , Chapter 3 pages 5-8

Q4. What is the solution, while balancing the socioeconomic and environmental issues to the transportation problems?

A4. The Stakeholder Process, including public involvement, identified the solution to the current and future transportation problems of the area to be a new river crossing "extradosed" bridge. Roadway designs in Minnesota and Wisconsin were described to include the future of the Lift Bridge as a bicycle/pedestrian facility that is part of a loop trail system along with a mitigation package to offset unavoidable impacts. For a complete description of the Preferred Alternative Package, please see Chapter 3 of the SFEIS.


Q1. Who really controls the decisions regarding when, where and what bridge?

A1. Final decisions are made by MnDOT, WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration. However, members of the St. Croix River Crossing Stakeholder Resolution Group have had input and were involved in developing this project through a facilitated consensus development process. No fewer than 17 permits also need to be obtained from stakeholders and other agencies in order for the project to proceed through construction.

Q2. How have the needs of all interested parties been represented?

A2. It is the MnDOT's and WisDOT's goal to hear every voice through public meetings and hearings, the stakeholder resolution group and community involvement. Details of the agency, stakeholder, and public involvement for this project can be found in Chapter 15 and Chapter 16 of the project Environmental Impact Statement. View stakeholder's past and future involvement.

Q3. Is there enough political will to get this project completed?

A3. The federal government, through executive order, has indicated its willingness to support the St. Croix River Crossing project by designating it as one of seven projects of national significance eligible for environmental streamlining. Minnesota and Wisconsin are actively working to complete the necessary documents that are required to deliver this project. Recent congressional, state and local activity offers more examples of support.

Q4. When and how did the choices get narrowed down and finally selected?

A4. Several alternative locations and bridge designs were studied to find out how they might affect natural, cultural and historical resources of the environment. View a description of alternatives that were studied. The studies determined that there were many significant resources protected by city, state or federal law. The results of the alternatives studied and their potential impacts were published in 2004 and members of the public were invited to comment. The public's comments were compiled and reviewed and a final decision regarding the preferred alternative package was made by the Minnesota and Wisconsin DOT's and the Federal Highway Administration in November 2006.

Q5. How were the various factors measured in the environmental impact studies? How are weights for each value determined?

A5. This type of measurement is very difficult, which is why we work with agency and technical experts to fully understand all resource issues when making that decision. The SDEIS has studied in detail the natural, historical, cultural and environmental protected resources, and each alternative’s potential impact on those resources. The process of how an alternative is evaluated is based in part on the laws that protect the resources. Refer to the 2004 SDEIS Chapter 9 for environmental considerations and Chapter 11 for historical considerations of the project, including the Memorandum of Agreement. View the 2004 SDEIS. Consideration of all protected resources is important in identifying a preferred alternative. View the protected resources for this project, also described in detail within the 2004 SDEIS , Chapters 4-14.


Q1. What will best alleviate congestion from the current lift bridge?

A1. Studies indicate that an additional river crossing with roadway approach improvements would best alleviate congestion from the current lift bridge. Comparisons of the existing transportation systems and the proposed improvements can be found in Chapter 4 draft and Chapter 4 final of the Environmental Impact Statement..

Q2. Is anyone looking at changing traffic signal operation in Stillwater as a solution?

A2. Yes, signal timing has been studied to determine if a cost-effective and less impactful solution to building a new bridge could be found. These studies concluded that while signal timing may provide minor improvements it cannot fully address the area’s roadway capacity problems. MnDOT has recently undertaken a signal optimization program along Highway 36 to refine the operations at each signal, but even these improvements are not solving the congestion and safety problems within the project area.

Q3. Why not require all commercial trucks to cross at Hudson; wouldn’t this help reduce congestion?

A3. Only about two percent of the vehicles crossing the Stillwater Lift Bridge are commercial vehicles. Restricting their use on the bridge would have little effect on reducing congestion. Additionally, MnDOT does not have legal authority to prohibit truck traffic from using the bridge. So in 2009, the Minnesota legislature passed a Minnesota state law banning trucks greater than 55 feet long from using the roadway leading up to the lift bridge.

Q4. Have the DOTs given fair consideration to the no-build option?

A4. Yes, it was included in the studies, and every effort has been made to examine the no-build option thoroughly. The No-Build Alternative assumes continued operation and maintenance of the Lift Bridge and approach roadways. Social, environmental and economic impacts of the No-Build Alternative were analyzed where relevant and compared to the impacts of the Build Alternatives. See Figure 3-1 of the SDEIS for a location of the Alternatives studied. Review detailed reasons why the No-Build Alternative was not selected as the preferred alternative.


Q1. What is the cost of the preferred alternative package and what does it include?

A1. The Preferred Alternative Package includes the new river bridge, the roadway approaches in both states, a mitigation package and the future use of the Lift Bridge as a bicycle/pedestrian facility. For a detailed description of the Preferred Alternative Package, see the current Total Project Cost Estimate for the Preferred Alternative Package is in the range of $574M-$690M. The Total Project Cost Estimate includes past, present and future costs such as construction, right of way, engineering, mitigation, and risks/contingencies. View a detailed breakout of these costs inflated to the mid-point of construction.

Q2. I have heard a number of different numbers given for the cost of building the bridge or project. Why is this and how does MnDOT calculate the cost?

A2. Project costs will vary over time, as more details become known. To estimate projects, MnDOT uses a Total Project Cost Estimates (TPCE) approach that includes any previously incurred expenses, engineering, a base construction cost estimate, right of way, risks/contingencies and future expenses. And then that TPCE is calculated to consider inflationary increases over time, out to the expected mid-point of construction.

Q3. Does the rising cost of steel, concrete and fuel affect costs?

A3. The cost of these materials at the time of bridge construction will have a significant affect on the actual cost of the project. MnDOT uses a average price from bids received on similar construction items to estimate a future project's cost.

Highway 36:

Q1. What is the preferred alternative roadway design of TH 36 thru Oak Park Heights and Stillwater?

A1. The design will be at-grade, signalized intersections with pulled back frontage roads at Oakgreen/Greeley and improvements at Osgood Ave. View the layout (PDF).

Q2. How will the preferred alternative affect current traffic flow on Highway 36 between Highway 5 and Highway 95?

A2. Traffic along Highway 36 will flow smoother and will be exposed to fewer delays. At the intersections at Oakgreen/Greeley, delays to drivers also will be reduced by pulling back the frontage roads. At the Osgood intersection, adding another east bound left turn lane and a northbound right turn lane will improve traffic operations and further reduce driver delays. Access a detailed description of the traffic operations.

Q3. What affect will a new bridge have on the properties along Highway 36 at the west end of the project?

A3. Right of way impacts have been minimized with the selection of the at-grade signalized intersection design as the preferred alternative. Only construction easements will be required to build the at-grade signalized design. For a detailed description of the right-of-way impacts in Minnesota, please visit Chapter 5 of the SFEIS beginning on page 11.

Q4. What will the speed limit on Highway 36 be?

A4. The existing speed limits are 50 miles per hour along Highway 36 in Minnesota. The existing speed limits are 65 miles per hour along Highway 64 in Wisconsin. A transition between these speed zones is anticipated to occur on the new river bridge. Following construction, a speed study will evaluate the need to change posted speed limits. Any changes to that speed will be posted accordingly.


Q1. What is the life expectancy of the preferred alternative bridge type?

A1. The bridge is designed to meet or exceed a 100 year service life.

Q2. If the new bridge is not built where will the traffic go?

A2. Studies show that more drivers would make the trip and try to cross the river at I-94. These additional vehicles are anticipated to cause additional congestion at the I-94 crossing. For regional traffic diversion, visit page 18 of the SDEIS. For existing and future (year 2030) average daily vehicle crossings of the St. Croix River, please visit Table 2. In 2011, an I-94 Corridor Study evaluated the traffic operations with and without a new St. Croix River Crossing. An additional 14,000 vehicles per day will need to divert to Hudson Bridge by 2030 if no new crossing is built, this also assumes the lift bridge stays open to traffic. That study was consistent with previous studies in identifying additional congestion at I-94 if no new river bridge is constructed in Oak Park Heights.

Q3. Was a tunnel ever considered as one of the options to solve the congestion and safety problems?

A3. Tunnels were considered both upstream and downstream of the Lift Bridge. After studying these options it was found to be extremely disruptive to the river bottom and surrounding environment and would be excessively expensive. A complete detailed description of the tunnel alternatives can be found beginning on page 15 of the 1990 Draft EIS. For a detailed view of the geology of the project area, visit page 100 of the report Reasons why the tunnel alternatives were not selected are found in the 1995 Final EIS, Chapter 3, page 28-30 and include: additional aquatic impacts, terrestrial impacts, cost and energy/operational considerations.

Q4. Will the new bridge be two, four or six lanes?

A4. Four lanes of traffic will be accommodated on the new river bridge, two eastbound and two westbound lanes. A detailed traffic forecast that explains why the four lanes are needed can be found on page 22 of the travel demand forecast.

Q5. Will there be a pedestrian path and bikeway on the preferred alternative bridge?

A5. Yes, there will be a bikeway and pedestrian path on the new bridge. There will also be a "loop trail" that connects the lift bridge and new bridge and connections to regional trail systems in Minnesota and Wisconsin. View animations of the Loop Trail.

Q6. What is going to happen to the land that was purchased for the previous project?

A6. In Minnesota, right of way previously purchased in Oak Park Heights will remain part of the proposed project. In Wisconsin, both new right of way will be acquired and excess right of way will be present. Access details on the right of way acquisition and relocations necessary, beginning on page 11.


Q1. When might a bridge be built?

A1. Construction is dependent upon receiving the necessary permits to construct. The project is currently scheduled to begin in 2013 and be completed in 2016. However, in November 2010 MnDOT was informed by the National Park Service that it will not be able to proceed with construction unless the project is exempted from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Access a complete detailed listing of the National Park Service's Determination and Evaluation. The project can not be permitted under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, therefore not constructed, without Congressional action to authorize the project. Congressional action has occurred: House of Representatives: Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands and Senate: Subcommittee on National Parks

Other Questions:

Q1. Who would benefit from a new bridge?

A1. All regional and local motorists in need of a reliable river crossing that can accommodate the current and future population growth in the St. Croix River area near Stillwater. A new bridge will also benefit businesses and residents in Oak Park Heights, Stillwater, Bayport and Houlton by eliminating congestion in town and on residential streets. Find regional and local traffic's origins and destinations. Additional traffic operations improvements would be recognized due to the improved roadway network leading up the new river bridge. Water quality in the St. Croix River would also be improved with construction of the project through an estimated 20 percent reduction in phosphorus from existing loading. Learn more about these water quality benefits.

Q2. Will a new bridge increase or create urban sprawl? If urban sprawl occurs, can the new bridge handle it?

A2. Discussions with planning agencies in both states show that development has already occurred and will continue whether or not a new bridge is built. Future traffic projections show that a four-lane bridge would have adequate capacity to handle increased traffic. A land use planning and regulatory section is in place at the local, metropolitan, state and interagency level, to control the nature and pace of development. For more information please refer to Chapters 6,13 &14 in the SFEIS regarding indirect and cumulative effects.

Q3. What are the strategies to preserve the lift bridge?

A3. The lift bridge is listed on the Historic Register and will continue to be maintained and preserved. In 2007 MnDOT invested $5 million in maintenance updates on the bridge and another major rehabilitation project is scheduled to begin in July 2012. MnDOT has developed a maintenance manual and management plan to help ensure that the bridge is preserved and available for public use. Additional information on the lift bridge is available in Chapter 11 of the SFEIS and at the Lift Bridge website.

Q4. I have heard people say that the Lift Bridge is not safe and that it should be closed, is this true?

A4. No. MnDOT regularly inspects the bridge, and if anything is discovered that compromises the safety of motorists it is repaired. Inspection reports are very complex and therefore confusing and can easily be misunderstood. Please see the Lift Bride website for the most recent information about the bridge's safety ratings and issues associated with the Lift Bridge.

Q5. I own a business in Stillwater and the 2012 bridge rehabilitation project will alter the way people travel to get to my store. Who can I contact at Mn/DOT to help me plan for this project which as I understand will close the lift bridge for three months?

A5. To help business owners while construction is occurring near their businesses, please contact Kevin Walker 651-234-7509 or Kevin.walker@state.mn.us

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