City squabble over utility fix may delay St. Croix River bridge - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

City squabble over utility fix may delay St. Croix River bridge

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Congress, President Barack Obama, and Gov. Mark Dayton have all signed off on the plan to build a new bridge over the St. Croix River -- but a nearby city's concern about local costs may create a road block that could end up delaying the project and costing Minnesota taxpayers more than just time.

The Oak Park Heights City Council still has not given its final approval of the plan, but residents at Sunnyside Townhomes, which overlook the scenic St. Croix, certainly don't.

Though there are plenty of complaints about how the new bridge will block the view, lately, the cost is what has been driving the conversation.

"It'll be the taxpayers of Oak Park Heights that'll have to foot the bill, and it's really not a fair proposition," argued resident Jerry Hutchinson.

When Highway 36 is torn up for the new bridge project, the city of Oak Park Heights estimates it may have to shell out as much as $3 million to repair old water and sewer lines.

"We wouldn't be doing it at this time or this expense except for the bridge," said Peggy Hutchinson. "So, we would hope more of it gets paid for."

The local reluctance has now become a hurdle that could delay the $676 million bridge project, which is expected to bring a large volume of jobs to the area as construction gets underway.

"I've been a proponent of the SCRC project, but it needs to be at a cost that's affordable to the people who live here, who do business in Oak Park Heights," said Les Abrahamson, an Oak Park Heights council member.

The city initially approved the project in 1995, but a new layout plan was submitted in 2005. That means the council now needs to decide whether or not those plans are similar enough to give the Minnesota Department of Transportation the consent it needs to move ahead. A vote is set for Thursday.

Officials at MnDOT say they are optimistic. They have already begun conducting tests on the riverbed and construction is slated to start in 2013.

"We're focused on good results," said John Chiglio, project director. "We've been working with the city very closely to get to this point and be able to move forward after Thursday night."

Even if the city doesn't approve the plan, MnDOT told FOX 9 News that won't mean the project will stop; however, a no vote could cost the state more time and money. Meanwhile, the people of Oak Park Height say it may be worth holding out.

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