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Stillwater bridge faces another possible roadblock

A $700-million bridge project to connect western Wisconsin with the Twin Cities metro area could be blocked by a bill introduced to Congress aimed at capping the cost.

The St. Croix River Crossing project has been in the works for more than two decades. It's a four-lane bridge design that would cross the federally protected St. Croix River from Houlton to south of Stillwater, Minn.

Most of the delay has come from the need for a congressional exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

But now the project could be delayed again because of its cost. That's because two members of Minnesota's Congressional Delegation have introduced a bill to cap any bridge project using federal funds at $574 million.

Congressman Keith Ellison said he's not against a new bridge, but the current project is too much.

"It's way more bridge than we need for the money when we have a whole bunch of other bridges in Wisconsin and Minnesota which need to be fixed," said Ellison.

Daryl Standafer, a member of the St. Croix River Crossing Coalition, a group lobbying for the current bridge design, said the $700 million price tag includes highway improvements in both states and stalling the project only increases costs.

"It's easy to say it's too expensive, too expensive compared to what?" said Standafer. "If this bridge would have been built a decade or two decades ago, it would have obviously been significantly less. But every time it's delayed and every time there is a roadblock thrown up the cost of the process just keeps escalating and going up and up and up."

A bill to allow construction of the four-lane bridge over the St. Croix River recently passed a Senate committee and is waiting for a full floor vote.