Over the opposition of Rep. Betty McCollum and Rep. Keith Ellison, the House voted on Thursday to provide an exemption to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act for a massive new freeway-style bridge over the St. Croix River at Oak Park Heights. All the other members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation voted for the exemption.
Transit for Livable Communities joined with many organizations in opposition to this large, expensive bridge for the same reason we have opposed other highway expansion projects. We are not anti-road or anti-driving, but we are against a pattern of decision making that continues to say “Yes” to highway expansion, shortchanging road maintenance and the ability to offer a range of transportation options to Minnesotans.
The Twin Cities metro has more highway lane miles per capita than Los Angeles. We already have a lot of roads to keep in good repair and, statewide, we have a huge backlog of bridges that need attention.
MnDOT, the state transportation agency, has said that it is not possible to build our way out of congestion: more or wider lanes will eventually become clogged. MnDOT says it’s time to prioritize –more “high value and low cost” projects—yet this freeway-style bridge is just the opposite. The estimated cost of the proposed bridge is three times the cost of the new I-35W bridge and is projected to accommodate only a small fraction of the traffic. Cheaper options for a new St Croix Bridge were repeatedly offered but rejected.
The massive bridge over the St Croix River was designed in a different era. It is based on projections of driving and growth that are no longer valid. Traffic volumes in Minnesota are not growing and rates of driving are flat. Many people today can’t afford to live so far from work or to drive everywhere. An aging population and young people with different priorities want more travel options.
Despite new visions for the future and new priorities, we keep building wider highways, more and larger interchanges, and bridges that are too big. TLC believes that our transportation investments need to start matching our stated priorities. With declining tax revenue and increasing maintenance costs, it is time to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and get back on track toward a 21st century transportation network that prioritizes people rather than cars.