Retiring Sen. Scalze still pushing for Rice St. Bridge project

By Sarah Thamer // Murphy News Service

Sen. Bev Scalze has been able to claim plenty of victories over her 12 years in the state Legislature. But as she prepares to retire from office, she’s the first to say that some of her work remains undone.

As a DFL senator serving portions of Ramsey County’s northern suburbs in District 42, she has co-authored health care reform to provide insurance coverage to more Minnesotans, prioritized repairs to higher education facilities and infrastructure projects and co-authored bills supporting community-based local energy projects.

After serving in the House for eight years, Scalze ran for her current Senate seat in 2012 and defeated April King with 55 percent of the vote.

But one key victory has eluded her. And as she prepares to retire from the Legislature at the end of the year, Scalze has been taking one departing shot at replacing the Rice Street Bridge over I-694 in Little Canada. The county requested that the bridge be replaced as far as back as 1989, but it’s not on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s list of planned projects, said Joel Hanson, Little Canada’s city administrator.

Hanson said the bridge creates a bottleneck for traffic, and its exit ramps and lanes don’t line up correctly, making it inconvenient to both exit from the highway onto Rice Street and exit Rice Street onto the highway.

Rice Street represents the border between Shoreview and Vadnais Heights. The bridge is at its southern boundary. Little Canada is south and east of the bridge, where traffic often becomes congested.

Beth Engum, a project manager for Ramsey County, said the state has prioritized other regional projects,  which has pushed the bridge’s replacement back. Engum said that Scalze has always been a “big supporter” of the Rice Street Bridge project.

Despite the struggle to get funding for replacement of the bridge, Scalze hasn’t stopped trying to urge the changes. And though she is retiring this year, her determination for alleviating congestion on the bridge remains strong, according to those who work with her.

“We love having her as a voice for projects,” said Michael McGraw, a Little Canada city council member.

Working to replace the bridge is nothing new to Scalze. One of her most successful accomplishments was securing funding to replace the Rice Street Bridge over Highway 36 in 2008. The bridge assisted St. Jude Medical in accessing both of its facilities in Little Canada.

Scalze also has served on several legislative committees that combine her government work and her passion for the outdoors. She has been a wildlife artist for most of her life. Born in Baudette Minnesota, she grew up by the woods and constantly explored the state’s environment. Like many wildlife artists, Scalze would spend hours in the woods researching the subjects for her paintings. Deer and loons dominated most of those works.

She currently serves on the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, and the Natural Resources, Economic Development, and Agricultural Budget Division of the Senate Finance Committee. In past sessions, Scalze authored and helped pass funding for Metro Regional Parks, co-authored bills supporting community-based local energy projects and provided grants for design and construction of energy efficient state buildings. She also supported a bill that lets voters decide if they want to dedicate a portion of the state sales tax to natural resources, parks and art.

As Vice-Chair of the Capital Investment Committee, Scalze prioritized repairs to higher education facilities and infrastructure projects. She said she now also has a bill for funding of the Reinvest in Minnesota reserve account, which pays farmers a percentage of the assessed value of their land for use as buffers to reduce water run-off that pollutes wetlands and waterways.

The first comprehensive transportation bill in 20 years was passed by Scalze with bipartisan support of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Trucking Association and the Minnesota Farmers Union.

“We need more bipartisan legislators like Senator Scalze; she’s very knowledgeable,” said Carla Nelson, a member of the Republican Party of Minnesota representing Olmsted County.

Since 1966, Scalze has owned and operated a heating company called Hoffman Corner Heating and Air Conditioning in White Bear Lake. After retiring, Scazle said she plans to spend more time with her family.

Sarah Thamer is studying journalism at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication


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