Comparing Bachmann's and Palin's Bridges to Nowhere

[The proposed 750 Million Dollar freeway bridge to empty farmland on a environmentally protected river.]

Amy Klobuchar last week provided one of the more nauseating moments in recent Minnesota politics when she came out in support of Michele Bachmann's (R-Batshit) sprawling bridge to nowhere proposal in exurban western Wisconsin. Klobuchar's support means that almost the entire Minnesota congressional delegation is on record in support of breaking environmental protection rules for an unnecessary 700+ Million Dollar sprawl-inducing freeway bridge through the Federally protected St. Croix river valley.

Hearing the news, my initial reaction was to write a lengthy screed about how unnecessary and wasteful the bridge proposal is, how building a huge exurban freeway bridge after the housing bubble is like making a huge investment in Napster after the dot-com bubble. We need a huge freeway bridge out connecting Oak Park Heights to nowhere, WI about as much as North Minneapolis needs another tornado, about as much as the Minnesota Twins need another scrappy utility infielder, about as much as northern New Jersey needs another mall... But I don't need to write a screed, because there's already a terrific screed out there explaining all this about the current bridge proposal.

Instead, I thought I'd take this opportunity to compare Bachmann's and Palin's bridges to nowhere to see which of them is more useless...

Palin's Bridge

Bachmann's Bridge

What it is

A large bridge over a shipping channel to connect the town of Ketchikan, Alaska (pop 7400) to its airport on a nearby island

4-lane bridge connecting the exurban towns of Oak Park Heights and Stillwater, Minnesota (pop 4300, 18000) to some empty farmland in St. Croix County, PLUS miles of new 4 lane freeway construction to hook the bridge up to current freeway infrastructure

Why “we need it”

Currently airport visitors have to take a ferry boat, which runs every 15-30 minutes

Historic 2-lane lift bridge in downtown Stillwater MN is really old and falling apart

What it costs

Almost $400 Million

Almost $750 Million

Who it would “serve”

It would save a few people some time, and may have a tiny effect on boosting Alaskan tourism, which is going the way of the dodo anyway thanks to high energy prices and an economic depression.

According to the DOT's optimistic projections, there would be 3,000 (!)* additional river crossings by 2030, mostly from new exurban residential development in St. Croix County farmlands

* only $250,000 per new commuter in a decade!

Amount of savings / capita

About 1000 people / day use the ferry.

About 9,000 commuting cars and trucks use the current bridge each day.

Why we don't really need it

Way too expensive. Duh.

Also way too expensive. There is already a big freeway bridge about 5 miles south, at Hudson, WI. A smaller bridge could be built for far cheaper, and wouldn't be nearly as destructive to the Federally protected St. Croix River Valley.


Almost completely useless. Who doesn't enjoy a short ride on a ferry? I guess a town of 7500 Alaskans doesn't. There are countless ways of spending this money more effectively.

Very behind the times. Too expensive This might have been debatable back in the mid 90s at the beginning of the exurban housing boom, but today? With a housing bust and high energy prices? With all levels of government in massive debt?

Actual political outcome

Initially approved in an earmark, but became wonderful political fodder during the 2008 election and the funding was stripped from the omnibus bill. The Alaska delegation has apparently tried again to get the money, so far w/ no luck.

Almost entire MN delegation (including both Democratic senators) is behind this bridge which would only encourage WI suburbanization. Bill to exempt the St Croix river from Federal environmental review... a dangerous precedent.

Ideal outcome

Happy hour ferry

Building a much smaller, cheaper bridge near the current one in Downtown Stillwater

[The sprawl development in Hudson, WI, which is what the empty farmland across from Stillwater will theoretically look like in 20 years if the huge bridge is built.]


Twin Cities' transportation advocacy group, Transportation for Liveable Communities recently released a column on the bridge that emphasizes cheaper, smaller options:

It is not as though other options don’t exist. In fact, there are numerous options available to resolve the maintenance and traffic capacity needs of the aging lift bridge. Several options would not only improve traffic flow across state lines but would do so in a manner that complies with the federal protections. Alternative designs and locations have been proposed to reduce the scope and scale of the proposed bridge. These alternatives recognize the context of the Stillwater and Oak Park Heights communities as well as the scenic beauty of the riverway. A smaller scale bridge reduces the cost to both MN and WI taxpayers while still providing area residents with a convenient crossing.

Also update:

Good Strib article on the cost and old-fashioned auto-dependency of this bridge plan today.
The proposed St. Croix Crossing bridge at Oak Park Heights is "an old-school suburban highway" out of step with modern needs, said John Bailey, a policy director of the transit group Envision Minnesota. "I think what we're seeing from many proponents of the St. Croix Crossing is a solution for the 1960s, where the Gateway Corridor is really a 21st-century solution for transit."


Stephen Gross said...

Wow... The MN delegation, eh? So what they really want is more residential development in the hinterlands? Or maybe they just want construction dollars from the feds so that we can keep our residents busier working on unnecessary projects. Either way, it's a losing proposition.

Bill Lindeke said...

Everyone but Ellison and McCollum.

Nathaniel said...

Great post! Great analysis!

Joshua said...

You hit the nail on the head here Bill. Thanks for laying this out.

I invite you all to join MPR's online debate at http://insight.mprnews.org/

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