A Column of Personal Opinion by State Senator Sheila Harsdorf
While much of the attention during the budget process focuses on the largest portions of the state budget, such as K-12 education, medical assistance, and transportation, the budget bill includes a number of provisions that seek to address specific state priorities around the state. I am pleased that I was able to work with legislative colleagues in our region to advance critical projects in western Wisconsin.
One of the most significant projects in western Wisconsin is the construction of the new bridge crossing over the St. Croix River. As those of us that live in our area know, replacing the Stillwater Bridge is critical to meeting our infrastructure needs, addressing emergency services and safety concerns, and reducing congestion. The Stillwater Bridge, which has been in use for over 80 years, is consistently rated poorly during bridge inspections and is frequently closed for repairs, diverting traffic through other communities.
It has been exciting to watch the new St. Croix Crossing rise from the river, revealing the vision of the designers of a bridge that will meet the needs of the region as well as complement the river’s beauty. As approach work on both sides of the river advances and precast bridge decking is now being installed, this vital link is rapidly becoming a reality after decades of legal battles. I was pleased that the budget bill includes the final $20 million commitment for Wisconsin’s costs of construction, which will address the final paving of the Wisconsin approach and creation of the pedestrian and bicycle loop trail that will be constructed along the new St. Croix Crossing and old Stillwater Bridge.
The state budget also includes funding for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to repair or replace the Little Falls Dam in Willow River State Park. Given its scenic beauty and convenient location for residents of western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities, Willow River State Park is one of our region’s many natural assets that generates tourism activity and supports local jobs. Additionally, Willow River is one of the top performing state parks in Wisconsin, generating nearly twice as much in revenue as is spent on the park’s operations.
One of the top attractions at the park is Little Falls Lake, which is created by the Little Falls Dam. Unfortunately, inspections of the dam in recent years have indicated that significant repairs are necessary, including the potential for removal and replacement of the dam. Working with Representative Dean Knudson, we were able to provide $5 million for the DNR to repair or replace the dam, along with over $3 million in funds previously approved by the State Building Commission for the project.
Another provision included in the budget provides a $250,000 matching grant for the St. Croix Valley Business Incubator. This project is a collaboration that includes UW-River Falls, City of River Falls, and River Falls Economic Development Corporation that seeks to create jobs and foster an entrepreneurial culture by leveraging the commercialization of University research and capitalizing on business partnership opportunities. Recognizing the value of small businesses to growing jobs and economic development, business incubators are a powerful tool to provide support to entrepreneurs as they seek to launch their ideas into successful business ventures.
I look forward to continuing to advocate for western Wisconsin in the State Senate and appreciate your suggestions on local initiatives. Please feel free to contact me by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at Sen.Harsdorf@legis.wi.gov.