Another potential shutdown casualty: Stillwater Lift Bridge

| 3 Comments

Updated June 27, 2011 (at bottom)

The Pioneer Press reportsAnother potential shutdown casualty: Stillwater Lift Bridge

The Stillwater Lift Bridge would likely close during a state government shutdown, city officials have been told.

The employee who operates the bridge is not expected to be classified as critical, and the bridge would be left in the up position to allow river navigation.

It would close to traffic starting June 30.

About 18,000 cars use the lift bridge on an average day, said Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki, with 25,000 or so on peak summer weekends. Traffic would be routed over the Interstate 94 bridge.

Some points:

(1) This is of course stupid for a variety of reasons, and would not occur but for the needless politicization of transportation. No other public utility would find itself shut down because of the state budget problem. Imagine they turned off electricity, or water, or even transit.

(2) This will make an excellent experiment on the importance (or lack) of this bridge. If only someone were doing before, during, and after studies. Of course with the shutdown, no one would get paid to do a "during" study.


(3) The evidence that the facility is not considered "critical" is telling about its importance.

Update June 27, 2011 with Pioneer Press article


The Stillwater Lift Bridge could remain open even if a state government shutdown occurs Friday, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials said this morning.

MnDOT is including operation of the lift bridge as a core critical function in its contingency planning efforts, pending a final court ruling.

After consulting with public safety officials and healthcare providers over the past several days, MnDOT officials have determined that the lift bridge is a "core service critical to maintaining life and health safety," said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for MnDOT.

"We looked pretty hard at that, and we understand the issues so it seemed to like a good thing to do," Gutknecht said. The lift bridge will remain open primarily to allow ambulance traffic to continue between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Republican legislators have scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference near the bridge to urge Gov. Mark Dayton to continue delivery of critical services such as the bridge in the event of a government shutdown.

The news conference was planned before MnDOT made its announcement.

I guess MnDOT reads the blog and concluded the optics of a shutdown would look bad for this and for a potential replacement bridge.

3 Comments

"Imagine if they turned off ... water, or even transit."

There's an illustrative comparison to be made between these two. The Metropolitan Council operates both public transit and wastewater management services for most of the metro area. Transit operations are indeed at risk in a lengthy government shutdown; wastewater operations are not.

The Council receives funds for transit operation from a variety of sources. One source is biannually-appropriated direct state funding. These funds are at risk due to the lack of an appropriations bill, and even if a shutdown is avoided it looks quite possible that the legislature will choose to reduce or even eliminate them. Other transit funding sources, such as the motor vehicle sales tax, do not depend on legislation but will disappear during a shutdown due to the lack of state administration to collect and disburse the taxes. [1]

The Council currently plans to continue to operate transit "for a period of time" after a potential shutdown. [2] If it does so, however, the Council will have to fund transit operations from its own cash reserves, with little prospect for reimbursement once a budget is passed and government operations resume.

Wastewater collection and treatment, on the other hand, "does not rely on state funding" and will continue indefinitely during a government shutdown. So how is this funded, if not by the state? It is of course complicated -- we are talking about a regional bureaucracy -- but it essentially boils down to user fees. The Council bills municipalities and industries directly based on the services used by each. [3]

In 2009, the Council received about $75 million in transit operating funds via state appropriation, and about $125 million from the motor vehicle sales tax, for a total of $200 million in state-dependent transit operation funds. [1] In the same year, the Council collected about $210 million for wastewater management operations directly from customer use fees. [4]

[1]: http://www.metrocouncil.org/planning/transportation/Evaluation2009/Evaluation2009.htm
[2]: http://www.metrocouncil.org/about/chair/2011/chair_Jun11.htm
[3]: http://www.metrocouncil.org/environment/RatesBilling/RatesCharges.htm
[4]: http://www.metrocouncil.org/environment/RatesBilling/RevenuesBudgeted.htm

The only reason that the bridge would have to be locked in the up position, is that it passes over an eight foot channel in the river that ends one thousand feet upstream from the bridge. The channel is not needed and is the only reason the bridge needs to be operated. It is a left over from when Muller Boat-works made boats north of the bridge. It would be far cheaper to abandon that short piece of channel, and end the traffic delay of lifting the bridge. Somehow this fact just keeps getting forgotten.

I'm a bit baffled that they justified it with ambulances, which would be carrying people from Wisconsin into Minnesota to get treatment in Stillwater. Of course, Hudson has a hospital too.

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on June 20, 2011 11:07 AM.

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