The U.S. House of Representative has cleared the way for building a new bridge over the St. Croix River between Houlton, Wisconsin and Oak Park Heights, Minnesota. The bill passed Thursday morning would exempt a new bridge on the federally protected St. Croix from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The Senate already approved the exemption in January.
Supporters argue the project is needed to replace an 80-year-old two-lane lift bridge in the St. Croix Valley. Debate over the proposal has stretched on for nearly 30 years, with opponents going to court twice in an attempt to block construction.
Another bridge does exist on Interstate-94 at Hudson, but it’s frequently overtaxed by traffic.
New Richmond Mayor Fred Horne and other bridge backers gathered at city hall to watch the final vote. He says everyone was “ecstatic” to see the project move ahead, which will have a huge economic impact on the region.
AUDIO: Mayor Horne (:08)
New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Russ Korpela says the bridge will complete a link between St. Croix County and the Twin Cities. He expects it will be several years though before most people realize the impact the new bridge will have on life in the region.
Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) has been working on the project for almost his entire 16 years in office.
AUDIO: Rep. Ron Kind (:12)
Kind says he’s glad to see the project move forward and he wants to see work started as soon as President Obama signs the bill. He says the project is “shovel-ready” and could create 15,000 construction jobs.
Jeff Petersen, WIXK