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State transportation chiefs meet on St. Croix River Bridge project

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news River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The leaders of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation met in Madison on Tuesday to talk bridges.

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Despite the high-level meeting there is still no word on whether Wisconsin will follow MnDOT's lead and accelerate the start date and funding of the St. Croix River Bridge project to 2013.

"What you could take from this meeting was that both states are highly committed to building a new bridge," said Chris Klein, executive assistant to Frank Busalacchi, Wisconsin DOT secretary.

Klein said that during the meeting, Busalacchi and Thomas Sorel, Minnesota commissioner of transportation, were given briefings on the conditions of four bridge crossings the two state's share.

Other crossings include Red Wing, Minn., Dresbach, Minn., and Winona, Minn.

Klein said that the St. Croix River Bridge project was the primary point of discussion though.

The end result of the meeting will be another meeting according to Klein.

"We agreed to hold another meeting to work on schedules, solutions and other items," Klein said.

He added that no date has been set for that meeting.

Since the June 14 announcement by MnDOT officials that they were elevating the priority of the St. Croix River Bridge project, there has been increasing pressure on Wisconsin transportation officials to do the same.

John Soderberg, head of the St. Croix Bridge Alliance, sent a letter to DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi asking that Wisconsin move forward with both funding and a 2013 project start date to match actions taken by the Minnesota Legislature.

In his reply to Soderberg, Busalacchi said DOT was working with their Minnesota counterparts to develop an implementation plan for the project.

"In fact, we will be meeting with MnDOT leaders this month to share information and discuss options," Busalacchi wrote.

On July 8, four area Legislators sent a letter to the head of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation asking why a consultant for the St. Croix River Bridge project has not been hired.

"This is a case where we have to find the resources," said Rep. Kitty Rhoades, R-Hudson.

"This is a dangerous bridge (Stillwater Lift Bridge). I don't want to be financially or morally responsible for not holding up our end," she added.

According to the letter sent on July 8, Rhoades, R-Hudson; Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake; Rep. John Murtha, R-Baldwin; and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, noted that the hiring of the consultant was authorized in 2007-09 biennial state budget.

The group noted that a consultant was authorized because of the complexities of the project and to help Minnesota, Wisconsin and federal government agencies coordinate the project.

"To date, it appears no action has occurred at our DOT in regard to following through in hiring this consultant," the group wrote.

Klein said the budget authorized the consultant only if federal funds were available to pay for it. He added that the state had not yet received any of those funds.

He also noted that DOT officials are still not even sure what they want the consultant to do.

"We don't even know the scope of what we want the consultant to do," Klein said. "It's not a wise use of taxpayer's dollars at this point."

Contact Brady Bautch at internet@rivertowns.net or 651.301.7824.

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