By Andy Rathburn
Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind is celebrating the St. Croix River Crossing Project as an economic boon for western Wisconsin.
After bridge legislation passed the House this morning, Kind characterized the potential impact of the bridge as "tremendous," and said it will help facilitate job growth on both sides of the river.
"We've got to do everything we can to get this economy on track creating good-paying jobs," he said in a conference call with reporters. "Infrastructure modernization is going to be an important part of that, and it's going to happen in our own back yard because of today's vote."
The House voted 339 to 80 to exempt the bridge project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act - likely the last major hurdle for the project, which was first proposed in 1995.
"Very seldom do you have that kind of support in Congress on virtually any issue these days," said Kind, a La Crosse Democrat whose 3rd District covers southwestern Wisconsin and includes the bridge site.
Most of the members of Congress who opposed the bill were concerned with the precedent it might set with regard to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which in part limits how land can be used in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
"This does not, I think, set national precedent," Kind said.
He added he does not believe the Sierra Club, which fought to stop the bridge, will have any legal standing to block the project.
"Now with the federal legislation - the language that exempts this - there is really no basis for this to be tied up in court any longer," Kind said.
President Obama must sign the bill, but Kind said he's confident that will happen.
"I've been in touch with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who is very excited to see this project move forward," Kind said, adding LaHood is recommending the president sign the bill.
"I fully expect that signature to occur in the near term," Kind said.
The path to today's vote has not been easy, he said.
"I, for the last 16 years, have devoted so much of my time and energy and focus to get this across the finish line, but really the congratulations goes out to all the federal and state and local agencies and private entities that have been involved with this," Kind said.
He also thanked both state's governors and the four Minnesota and Wisconsin U.S. Senators for their support, particularly Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was "dogged in her advocacy for the bridge in the Senate," Kind said.
"But most of all it was the people," he added.
The House received a commendation today from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
"This legislation was a top federal priority for my administration and is a great example of bipartisanship teamwork that will create thousands of jobs," Walker said in a written statement. "The construction of this safer, better bridge will bring a welcome economic boost to the region."
"I thank Congressmen Sean Duffy and Ron Kind, as well as Senators Ron Johnson and Herb Kohl, along with the many others who worked on this legislation in Wisconsin and Minnesota including Governor Mark Dayton, for their diligence and persistence in bringing this legislation across the finish line," he said.
Wisconsin state Rep. Erik Severson, R-Osceola, also praised lawmakers for today's vote.
"This has always been a nonpartisan issue for those of us in northwestern Wisconsin," he said in a statement. "The broad coalition of support for this project clearly demonstrates the need for a new bridge."
"After decades of work a new bridge is finally in sight," he wrote, adding, "it is time for this project to move forward."
Daryl Standafer, chair of the St. Croix County board of supervisors, called the House vote "truly a milestone for our area, and a testament to the hard work of many people who had the vision and persistence to run the race to the end."
"Together," he said, "we can accomplish great things."