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New I-74 Bridge will finally be a reality

After years of delays and funding tie-ups, the new I-74 Bridge is finally slated for construction in late 2017.

“It’s going to happen now, more than ever,” said Doug Rick, project manager with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The Interstate 74 Corridor Project, though, is much more than a new bridge.  The whole corridor actually extends from Avenue of the Cities in Moline to 53rd Street in Davenport.

“It is a big, big project,” said Becky Marruffo, project engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation.  “I know, to a lot of people, it seems like we move on a glacial pace, and I can see why it looks that way.  It takes a long time to get all of the plan in place.”

Work on the I-74 Corridor project actually began back in 1996, when a study first determined three “crossing needs” in the Quad Cities.  These included the removal of tolls on Centennial Bridge, the construction of a new bridge between East Moline and Bettendorf, and the widening of the I-74 Bridge.

Opened in 1935, the I-74 Bridge was built to carry around 48,000 cars each day.  Today, it carries close to 80,000 per day, and engineers consider the structure “functionally obsolete.”

On parts of the bridge, crash rates are three times the national average.

“It is a safety concern,” said Marruffo.

A new I-74 Bridge, though, will mean wider and safer lanes.  The top of the basket handle arch will be 84 feet higher than the current bridge.  Designs also include a 14-foot wide bike and pedestrian trail on one side, a unique feature for an interstate bridge.  There will also be a viewing area near the center.

“I think people will literally come to that bridge, maybe even to the Quad Cities, just to see the Mississippi River from here,” said Denise Bulat, executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission.

The new bridge is being built to last 75 to 100 years. Bi-State officials estimate the entire I-74 project will also create or retain 1,700 jobs for the Quad Cities.

Iowa Work

On the Iowa side of the river, the work already underway is obvious. Quad Cities landmarks like Waterfront Deli have moved to make way for the new bridge, and Rick says only a few more businesses need relocating.  All of the Bettendorf land needs to be acquired by the end of this year.

As of October 2013, Rick said acquisition had been completed on 42 of the 44 properties they needed to acquire as part of the project.

Illinois Work

Casual observers may have a harder time recognizing the I-74 Bridge work taking place in Moline.  On the Illinois side of the river, only 17 total properties need to be acquired.

“They don’t need a lot of property for that project, so they’re not in a hurry like we are to acquire all the land,” said Rick.

There is also less work that can be done in Moline ahead of the actual bridge construction.

“In Illinois, most of the local road work that’s going to be happening is in regard to the new interchanges, and you really can’t do that work until you have I-74 in place, because we are on a completely different alignment for those first several blocks in Illinois,” said Marruffo.

Work on the actual bridge is now expected to begin in the second half of 2017.  The current plan calls for five years of construction, but there is an effort underway to shorten that time period.  Reducing the construction period would likely mean reduced costs, but would also mean a greater impact on traffic.

Funding

After years of funding woes, money for the project is finally programmed into both the Iowa and Illinois Department of Transportation budgets.  Iowa has committed nearly $50 million for the first year of the construction on the I-74 Bridge project, and Illinois has pledged $90 million for the first two years.

“We’ve probably spent, between the two DOTs, over $70 million already,” said Rick.

Since the mid-1990s, the project has received more than $85 million dollars in federal funds for required studies, environmental documents and construction plans.  Project managers expect the final I-74 corridor project to cost more than $1 billion.

Next Up

The next work residents will see is in 2015, when Bettendorf’s Grant and State Streets are realigned to connect to the bridge.  River Drive in Moline will also be reconstructed to accommodate the proposed ramps.

Routine maintenance will continue in the meantime, though, including bridge painting.

“It needs to be painted. We need to stop the corrosion that was happening at the openings in the bridge floor,” said Rick.

Final engineering plans will also be completed in 2014, and leaders on both sides of the river say a new I-74 Bridge will be a reality.

“It is really going to happen,” said Marruffo.