1 busted bridge messed up boats, cars – and left a guy stranded

The Stillwater Lift Bridge is nearly ready for retirement.
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Update 7 a.m.

Crews have successfully restored power to the Stillwater lift bridge and it was reopened to drivers at around 4:30 a.m., KSTP reports.

Update: 9:30 p.m.

Crews were unable to restore power to the Stillwater lift bridge before dark and MnDOT announced the work will go on through the night.

But bridge operator Mike Schmidt is no longer stranded. Schmidt spent more than eight hours stuck on the bridge, but rescuers using a bucket truck finally helped him back down, FOX 9 says.

Below is our original story from earlier Tuesday evening.

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What could have been a lazy summer afternoon in Stillwater instead turned a little crazy on Tuesday when the town's historic lift bridge quit working.

The bridge over the St. Croix went up just fine at noon to let a riverboat through. But on the way back down it conked out. It just stopped, part way down – messing up boat traffic, land traffic in two states, and leaving the guy who was running the bridge stuck in limbo for hours.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) says it was an electrical problem. Of course they had to close Highway 36, which crosses the bridge between Stillwater and Houlton, Wisconsin.

A little before 5 p.m., a MnDOT spokesman tweeted that it could still take several hours to fix the bridge. But that's better than what Stillwater's mayor was saying earlier in the afternoon.

There's a guy up there

A MnDOT official tells the Pioneer Press the lift bridge operator is Mike Schmidt, a 36-year employee of the agency who is in his third summer running the Stillwater bridge.

“He said the weather is beautiful up there, and he’s got a nice breeze,” MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard told the paper.

Rush hour traffic had to cross the St. Croix by using either the Osceola, Wisconsin, bridge to the north or the I-94 bridge to the south, MnDOT said.

As for boats on the St. Croix, small ones were able to pass under the partially-lowered bridge. But the big riverboat that passed through at noon was too big to fit under it on the way back.

The Empress Andiano, which is run by Stillwater Riverboats, had to pull over and let its passengers get on trolleys to complete their trip, the Stillwater Gazette reports.

What caused the power outage?

Early afternoon reports that a vehicle had crashed into the bridge's transformer turned out to be false, the Pioneer Press says.

The Gazette reports crews at the scene said a meter socket had blown out, though MnDOT had not confirmed that.

An agency spokesman told the Star Tribune it's just a matter of the bridge and its equipment being old.

The lift bridge was built in 1931 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It will soon be taken out of commission, but completion of the new $620 million bridge between Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, and St. Joseph, Wisconsin, was delayed. An opening ceremony is now planned for August 2.

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