Stillwater Lift Bridge will close in a government shutdown

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A government shutdown will create a major transportation headache for anyone who relies on the Stillwater Lift Bridge to get back and forth to Wisconsin.

If legislators cannot reach a budget agreement before July 1, the bridge will be raised and closed to traffic on what also happens to be the day of its 80th birthday.

"It does impact not only the community but the whole region," says Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki.

This morning, city employees received an email from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, alerting them that bridge operators will be yanked off the job during the shutdown. Only a bipartisan budget resolution can save drivers from being diverted down to highway 94.

"The lift bridge operations have NOT been identified as a critical government function," the email reads. "From a legal standpoint river navigation takes precedence over roadway traffic."

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MVWorks
Commuters will have to get used to this sight in the event of a shutdown.
The bridge is crossed by 18,000 vehicles a day and has been lifted for extended periods of time in the past, most recently for flooding. At one point it was shut for three months due to MNDOT repairs. Harycki says he knows commuters who couch surf during the closures to avoid the extra driving hours and gas money.

"All the traffic basically has to go through Hudson, which is only two lanes at 20 miles an hour through town," he says. "The cops love to sit in Hudson and pick you off for doing 25."

The potential closure also provides a convenient segway to talking about proposed plans for a new $633 million bridge, which would not lift. The project has a very special place in Michele Bachmann's heart, and she fought to get the St. Croix river taken off of the Wild and Scenic Rivers protection act in order to make way for its development. While conservationists say this creates a dangerous precedent, Gov. Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have also endorsed the plans for the four-lane highway.

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