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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pat Goss: Building a bridge to bipartisanship


By Pat Goss
We are all familiar with the partisan environment that seems to be hindering elected officials at all levels of government from working together on solutions that improve the lives of citizens and fostering a economic growth.

Nothing is immune from being packaged as “political artillery” to use against the opposition. Issues are left to fester until they reach crisis stage – at which point some sort of band-aid fix is reached at the last possible moment. The proverbial can has been temporarily kicked down the road. Politicians blame each other for the impasse while citizens shake their heads.

But every once in a while, politicians work together to deliver results for citizens.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved construction of a new bridge over the St. Croix River connecting Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was supported by the Governors of both states – one a Republican, the other a Democrat. A bi-partisan push by the states’ four U.S. Senators led to unanimous approval in that closely divided chamber. All members of Wisconsin’s House delegation – five Republicans and three Democrats – voted for the measure.

Approval of the St. Croix River Crossing is the culmination of decades of negotiation and litigation by numerous parties.

The current two-lane steel lift bridge was built in 1931, and talk of its replacement has been contentious since the 1970s. As attorneys haggled in court over various replacement alternatives, the bridge became structurally deficient and caused horrendous traffic jams during peak periods.

Finally, in 2002, President Bush issued an executive order establishing an environmental stewardship and streamlined review process for seven transportation projects deemed to be of national significance, including the St. Croix River Crossing. A 28-member stakeholder group then spent four years meticulously discussing the many transportation, environmental and historic preservation aspects of the project before reaching a compromise solution.

That compromise consists of a four-lane bridge on new alignment, preservation of the existing lift bridge and a variety of environmental mitigation measures that will enhance the scenic beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. This proves that transportation improvements to protect safety and enhance mobility can go hand-in-hand with environmental protection and historic preservation.

The lesson here: bipartisanship worked. A Republican president understood the need for a new bridge and accelerated the project and a Democrat president will, in all likelihood, give final approval of the project. It may be rare these days, but Wisconsin and Minnesota have once again shown that politicians are still capable of working together to enact positive change for the people and communities they represent.

Let’s hope the rest of America is watching.

-- Goss is executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.


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