They paved paradise

Years ago (think late 1960s and early 1970s), I collected stamps.  I learned much about a variety of subjects looking at them and learning about the events, people, and places they displayed.  One that struck me was this:

Golden gate stamp

Being young and ignorant, I was puzzled: there was a Golden Gate without a bridge?  Well, yes, of course there was:

Golden gate before bridge

(By Ansel Adams, from Flikr)

The Golden Gate is One of Nature’s Perfect Pictures – Let’s Not Disfigure It,” reads an ad placed in The San Francisco Examiner before the bridge was built, and controversy raged right up until the Golden Gate Bridge was completed in 1937.

Now, when someone wants to represent San Francisco with a visual cue they usually show a picture of the bridge.

It didn’t have to be that way. There was already a ferry network, and the state could have built tunnels to connect San Francisco with Marin County (like those connecting Manhattan with New Jersey) instead of a bridge.  The latter, however, would have cost much more than a bridge and ferries are a pain when you want to drive your car into the city.

I thought of this when I opened today’s StarTribune and saw the headline, “$2M state PR campaign seeks to build support for St. Croix bridge.” Right there, in the second paragraph, there it was:

“I look at this as the Golden Gate Bridge of Minnesota,” a state highway engineer boomed over speakers on all three decks. “If you get pictures of yourself, you can show the kids and grandkids that you were here to see it built.”

Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it didn’t have to be this way. Senator Walter Mondale co-sponsored the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in part to protect the St. Croix from exactly this kind of construction. But, “it’s a tough fight when you go against what the highway department wants,” according to Mondale. We, through our elected representatives, decided that we just had to be able to drive our cars at that spot.

Ironically, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Mondale’s political heirs, delivered the blow.

Now, the St. Croix valley will join the Golden Gate as something we can gaze at in photos but only imagine in real life. As an economist, it’s hard for me to see how this cost is outweighed by the benefits of bridging the St. Croix. Having lived in the Bay Area for five years, I’m not convinced that it was the right choice for California.  We’ll see how it turns out for Stillwater and the valley.