Local stakeholders have opposed the new bridge for years. They cite the fact that Stillwater is the birthplace of Minnesota, the area is historic in nature, and the river is designated a wild and scenic river. They advocate that a new bridge would spoil the scenery. They also refuse to give up the lift bridge, stating that it is also a historic attraction.
At the same time, population pressures are pushing Twin Cities area residents into western Wisconsin in ever growing numbers. People who live on the Wisconsin side say that they deserve a reasonable highway connection to the Twin Cities. Indeed, a new bridge would likely open the flood gates for migration into western Wisconsin. Land owners would love to see that happen.
The bridge process fell apart in the late 1990s as a vast majority of the stakeholders simply would not accept a new bridge of any kind. The process was restarted in the early 2000s as part of a new federal program to speed up the environmental impact study process. Of seven projects in that program, the other six have since been built. A new sleek and thin bridge design has been approved by all concerned parties, the environmental impact study is approved, and initial funding is in place. This is enough to start some of the preparation work, and get ready to start foundations. Some of the prep work that has been lumped into this project is to remove an equal number of local eyesore structures and reclaim spoiled land to make up for the visual impact of the new bridge.
The bridge itself will be only the second extradosed bridge to be built in the United States. An extradosed bridge is similar to a cable stayed bridge, but with a major difference. In a cable stayed bridge, the cables hold up the deck segments. That requires tall towers and a steep angle for the cables. An extradosed bridge uses the shorter towers to support the deck segments near the tower. The relatively shallow angle of the cables means that they mostly pull the deck segments together rather than holding them up. The result is that the segments are held tightly together, so they essentially perform as single beams. The extradosed style is more expensive than a beam bridge, yet cheaper than a cable stayed bridge. It requires fewer pylons than a beam bridge, but more than a cable stayed bridge.
The bridge will connect MN-36 to WI-64. It will be located directly east of the expressway section of MN-36 that skirts the south side of Stillwater. The river makes a 45-degree jog to the west, so the bridge will cross northeast and southwest, directly perpendicular to the flow of water. Once the bridge lands in Wisconsin, a segment of freeway will head north to connect to a recently built freeway bypass of Somerset.
Update—it appears that the bridge project has fallen apart again. The National Park Service has withdrawn their approval of the bridge project. Their approval is a key factor given the river's status as a wild and scenic river.
Update—as of early 2011, support is again building for the bridge. Both of Minnesota's Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, support the project, as well as Representative Michele Bachmann. They are attempting to introduce a bill in Congress that would make a special law to override the National Park Service, granting government approval to build the bridge.
The image above is from the bridge project handouts. It depicts the river crossing and the freeway link to Minnesota.