The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will make design choices regarding the MN 243 Bridge Replacement Project over the St. Croix River. The goal of the Highway 243 project is to maintain a reliable road connection across the St. Croix River between Washington and Chisago counties in Minnesota and the Village of Osceola and Polk County in Wisconsin.
Osceola resident Tyler Norenberg started a petition to stop the MnDOT from destroying Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen. As of August 1, the petition has received over 4,533 signatures.
According to the petition, “The poor choice of bridge alignment would destroy the natural beauty of the Cascade Falls Trail through the Wilke Glen – the #1 tourist attraction for this small Wisconsin town located on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.. Osceola was founded in 1886 with a mill in Cascade Falls. This roaring 25-foot waterfall is Osceola’s #1 tourist attraction and carries Osceola Creek (a DNR-designated trout stream) to the St. Croix River via Wilke Glen.
The petition describes that the MnDOT is considering two choices for alignment of the bridge – the northern alignment or the southern alignment. Both of these options would allow the existing MN 243 bridge to remain open while a new bridge is constructed directly adjacent to the north or south side. Additionally, the new bridge would have to be wider to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians across the St. Croix River, taking a greater width from the Wisconsin shore.
The petition also outlines the pros and cons of the alignment choices:
Northern alignment destroys Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen
If the northern alignment option is chosen for the replacement of the MN 243 bridge, it will permanently destroy the natural beauty of Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen by removing most of the trees, destroying the unique vegetation that thrives along Osceola Creek , removing the natural hill that shields Cascade Falls, Wilke Glen and downtown Osceola from traffic noise, destroying many MNR-designated wetlands, displacing the natural flow of Osceola Creek to accommodate new abutments of bridge and construction of concrete retaining walls in much of Wilke Glen.
Southern alignment preserves Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen
The southern alignment option is the only logical choice for the new MN243 bridge to save the vital natural ecosystem of Cascade Falls and Wilke Glen and preserve the #1 reason people come to visit Osceola. The southern alignment also maintains the much-needed economic contribution that tourism makes to Osceola’s local economy.
The MnDOT became aware of the petition last week.
“We welcome and understand the petitioners’ concerns. It is important for the public to know that nothing is final at this stage as the evaluation process continues. MnDOT and WisDOT are still reviewing three possible design alternatives for the Highway 243/Osceola Bridge Replacement,” said MnDOT Metro Distirct East Area Engineer Dmitry Tomasevich.
“All three alternatives have impacts on sensitive environmental resources in the area, including the Wilke Glen area. The public is encouraged to visit the project website for information on alternatives still being evaluated.
The project team is working with federal, state and local interests to minimize project impacts on the St. Croix River and other natural resources in the area.
The MnDOT is designing the reconstruction of the Hwy 243/Osceola Bridge on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway as the bridge is nearing the end of its life due to its age. The Highway 243 bridge will be replaced. MnDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) conducted an assessment of the existing piles and footings and decided that it was not possible to reuse part of the existing structure.
Additional project needs include housing for people who walk and cycle, and drainage improvements. The project team will consider alternatives to the bridge that include accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians. Sensitive environmental constraints on road approaches in Minnesota and Wisconsin will also be considered when evaluating these changes.
The MnDOT has a summary of the assessment process available on its website. The summary explains that the MnDOT implemented a three-step process to evaluate bridge crossing alternatives and select a preferred project alternative for the Osceola Bridge.
The process began with identifying a reasonable range of building concepts, including a no-build alternative. Each stage will refine the alternatives through quantitative and qualitative environmental analysis and examine the remaining alternatives at a progressively more detailed level. The outcome of the third stage is the identification of a preferred alternative, which is the alternative that will proceed to the final design and ultimately construction of the Osceola Highway 243 Bridge Project.
“MnDOT and WisDOT use a three-step process to evaluate bridge crossing alternatives. At each subsequent step, a more detailed analysis of each of the remaining alternatives occurs. The results of the stage 2 analysis and public comments are currently published on the project website,” explained Tomasevich.
“The results of stage 2 did not show enough differences to justify eliminating any of the three remaining alternatives. These three alternatives will be examined in more detail in stage 3 related to social, environmental and The project team set up a public comment period. The 15-day public comment period ran from May 19, 2021 to June 4, 2021. Interested parties could submit their comments via the website of the project, by e-mail or in writing to the MnDOT.
A total of 92 comments were received between May 19, 2021 and June 7, 2021. Three additional comments were received between June 12, 2021 and August 31, 2021. Over 62% of comments received to date highlight the need for a cycle and pedestrian path.