In response to an article in the Star Tribune about Al Franken considering whether or not to support a new bridge to sprawl over the St. Croix, I wrote the letter below. Of course, politicians no longer let you email them directly, so I had to copy this onto 3 different contact form pages, each time filling out my personal info again. Not a big deal, as I would just have used that time to write more bilious blog posts, but it kind of messed with the form of the letter, and forces me to individually email my state reps. Ah consumer democracy.
Dear Senators Franken and Klobuchar and Governor Dayton,
I’m writing to urge you not to support a new bridge across the St. Croix River near Stillwater. A new bridge would hugely encourage sprawl, which damages the environment, requires costly infrastructure such as sewers and roads, and fosters unhealthy automobile-dependent lifestyles. Furthermore, a new bridge is not necessary, since the I-94 bridge just 5 miles south of Stillwater has a great deal of excess capacity.
I’m sure you all know your American history, and therefore understand that the unprecedented spatial growth of American cities in the post-war era was significantly aided by the construction of automotive infrastructure.
- Senator Franken, your hometown of St. Louis Park was platted around railways in the late 1900s, but only boomed after the construction in the 30s and 40s of the Lilac Way, which we now know as Highway 100.
- Senator Klobuchar, you can still see developers such as Lennar Corporation brag about the excellent highway access of your hometown of Plymouth when trying to sell their speculative homes.
- Governor Dayton, I’m sure you remember the population drain in your hometown of Minneapolis when in the 60s tens of thousands of homes were destroyed to build the interstates, and many of those whose homes were taken resettled along the beltways.
There is no question that the construction of a new bridge across the St Croix will kickstart this process in western Wisconsin; the government will provide developers with a selling point for their sprawling subdivisions, luring residents who would otherwise settle in Minnesota.
Sprawl could be accepted as an unfortunate byproduct if this bridge were otherwise necessary. There is no reason to construct this bridge, however, except to encourage sprawl. The 20,000 vehicles a day that use the Lift Bridge could easily be accommodated by the I-94 bridge just 5 miles south, which uses only a tiny fraction of its 6 lanes of capacity. The simplest way to relieve traffic problems in downtown Stillwater is to close the Lift Bridge. Washington County politicians know this, but they want the sprawl-inducing effect of the bridge to boost the tax base of the Far East Metro at the expense of older cities like Maplewood, White Bear Lake and St Paul.
Senator Franken, in today’s Star Tribune you are quoted asking, “Are the alternatives that are suggested by [environmental] groups less environmentally damaging?” As I’ve mentioned, the numbers show that adding 20,000 vehicles a day to the I-94 bridge is entirely feasible. To answer your question, a mass transit approach to improving mobility in the East Metro would be significantly less environmentally damaging. The $690m cost of a new bridge across the St Croix would pay for a bus rapid transit system on the Gateway Corridor as well as a light rail transit line between St Paul and White Bear Lake. Transit-oriented development built around those lines would be denser and more energy-efficient, use primarily existing sewer and local road infrastructure, and encourage healthier transportation than the sprawl built around a new bridge.
Minnesota has historically subsidized automobile use over all other modes, and has received as a result one of the most sprawling cities in the world, one of the least equal cities in the nation, and a rampant obesity problem. If you’re going to legislate an exception to a long-standing federal law, amend the gas tax to allow fungibility between transportation modes.