Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann may be a crusader against government waste, but the GOP presidential candidate is standing firm against critics who say the construction of a new $690 million bridge that she supports over the St. Croix River in her Minnesota district is wasteful.
Critics complain that the proposed bridge is too expensive and dries up money for other transportation projects. It has also been compared to the infamous proposed “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, where federal dollars were sought to build a bridge to an island where only a few dozen people lived.
The proposed St. Croix River Bridge would connect the Minnesota city of Stillwater, where just 20,000 people live, to an unincorporated town across the river in Wisconsin. What’s striking about Bachmann’s support for it, government waste watchdogs say, is her reputation as a relentless critic of wasteful government spending.
“This is the height of hypocrisy,” David Williams, the president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, told The Daily Caller. “As a self-acclaimed fiscally conservative member of Congress you can’t pick and choose which projects are questionable and which are not just because a project happens to be in your district. Being a budget hawk also means that you have to scrutinize projects that are in your district or state.”
But Becky Rogness, a spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office, said safety issues are at play and this “should have been built years ago.”
“The current Stillwater Lift Bridge is 80 years old,” Rogness told TheDC. “It’s sufficiency rating is worse than the rating of the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed in 2007. And it’s carrying thousands of more cars a day than it was designed to do.”
Legislation moving the project forward passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. It now goes before both the full House and Senate. Because the bridge goes through the federally-protected St. Croix River valley, the legislation grants an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. (RELATED: Bachmann: Obama violating the Constitution, the Tenth Commandment)
“The crossing project that H.R. 850 facilitates was ready to begin years ago, but lawsuits by radical environmental groups have stopped it,” Rogness said. “Those unnecessary delays have caused the cost to rise from $80 million dollars in 1992 to its current price tag. Standing in the way of starting this project is not going to do taxpayers any good. In addition, both states are ready to fund this project.”
Bachmann has found an unlikely partner in Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate. But one critic, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum, worries that spending this money on just one bridge isn’t ideal when there are plenty of other bridges that need attention in the state.
“We can put people to work right now fixing, repairing, replacing a part of the over 1,000 bridges across Minnesota that are structurally deficient,” McCollum told the Star Tribune. “The Stillwater bridge is not the only bridge in that category.”