At last, I-74 Bridge pedestrian-bike path opens

Quad Citians are celebrating another significant milestone for the new I-74 Bridge:

The Mississippi River crossing’s long-awaited pedestrian/bike path is open to foot and bike traffic today.

Joe Wick, I-74 deputy corridor manager, told members of the Bi-State Regional Commission on Tuesday, April 26, that, by week’s end, cyclists, walkers, joggers and sightseers would be able to travel from Moline to Bettendorf on the much-anticipated pathway that connects two recreational trails.

This is an artist’s representation of the I-74 Bridge elevator to access the bike path from Bettendorf. CREDIT IOWA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

The “soft opening” is a little more than five months after both lanes of the new I-74 Bridge fully opened to vehicle traffic late in the evening of Dec. 1, 2021. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new path by the cities of Moline and Bettendorf and Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation (DOT) is planned for May 18, according to Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn. 

Early last week, contractors were adding finishing touches to the 14-foot-wide path that stretches across the Mississippi River from Grant Street in Bettendorf to River Drive in Moline. The two cities will share maintenance of the pathway, which area leaders hope will be a magnet for those attracted to the Mississippi River’s mystique.

“Pedestrian engagement and activation on and around the new I-74 River Bridge presents a unique opportunity for visitors and residents to emotionally connect with our world-renowned Mississippi River,” explained Dave Herrell, president and CEO of Visit Quad Cities.

“Creating a memorable visitor experience and integrating outdoors connectivity strengthens our regional destination and quality of place. Assets like the American Discovery Trail, Great River Trail, and now the new I-74 River Bridge provide a positive lift for tourism,” he said. “Walkers, runners, cyclists, and anyone looking for that amazing QC selfie or photo op will now have one of the absolute best spots in the Midwest. The opportunity to connect with the bridge is important for tourism, lifestyle benefits, and also boosts our civic pride.”

Added Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman, “The bike and pedestrian path is a prime example of how transportation infrastructure can provide more travel options and better connect our communities.”

Some in the community have been eager for the path’s opening for months, but a handful of issues delayed completion. They included the need to develop a process for snow removal as part of a joint maintenance arrangement between Moline and Bettendorf as well as an issue with lingering cold, rainy weather that impacted such things as concrete drying time.

Supply chain issues also centered on the pathway’s safety fence, a product for which there “are not a lot of suppliers,” I-74 Corridor Manager George Ryan told the QCBJ this week.

In addition to installing that fence, other details completed last week included the trail’s seating and artistic sculptures. Those decorative elements joined a key component of the scenic overlook’s design. In mid-March, East Moline Glass installed a unique decorated circular window, or oculus, the company created for the project. 

The 10-foot diameter oculus, which was designed to withstand 6,600 pounds of weight, affords sightseers a bird’s-eye view of boats and barges traveling under the Mississippi River bridge 20 feet below. Uplighting also is being added to the scenic overlook.

With the bi-state path open for business, only one element of the I-74 bridge proper is left undone: The elevator that will take path users to the Bettendorf recreational trail below the bridge. Bids for the elevator could be let this fall, Mr. Ryan said.

“One of the defining features of the new bridge is the bike and pedestrian path, welcoming both residents and visitors to explore the Quad Cities,” Iowa DOT director Scott Marler said last week. “There are only a handful of such paths on interstate bridges across the country and we’re thrilled to be bringing this unique feature to the area.”

Equally rare is the inclusion of elevators such as the two-sided hospital-size one planned for the I-74 Bridge to connect walkers and hikers to national trails and Bettendorf’s planned urban park system.

The elevator also will help walkers and cyclists reach the trail system without crossing crowded railroad tracks, Mr. Ryan said. Those tracks will get even busier if federal authorities approve a proposed Canadian Pacific rail merger, which is expected to increase train traffic exponentially.

Demolition work continues

As Quad Citians explore the new bike path, demolition work will continue on the shoreline portions of the old and obsolete I-74 green spans. 

On the Moline side, Kraemer North America is making headway in demolishing the land-side spans, Mr. Ryan reports. Workers from the company headquartered in Plain, Wisconsin, are under contract with the Illinois DOT to remove the spans and the shoreline piers from the Mississippi River to Seventh Street.

In addition, landscape work under the bridge in Bettendorf and Moline is expected to begin soon and will be done by firms hired by the two state’s DOTs to beautify the two shores.

Bids also could be let in June for demolition of the main section of the old bridge itself where it crosses over the Mississippi River, Mr. Wick said this week. The method of demolition will be decided by the contractor.

In the meantime, last-minute jobs on the new bridge work continue as workers complete painting and other duties, Mr. Ryan said. The final bridge lighting issues also are expected to be resolved soon. In all, the entire project, including the elevator and landscaping, is probably a construction season or two away from completion.

Regarding the wrapup work left on a construction phase that officially kicked off in July 2017, Mr. Ryan cited the old 90/10 engineering rule of project management. It says, “The last 10% of the project takes 90% of the time.”

For Quad Cities leaders who have been working for nearly four decades to build a new I-74 Mississippi River crossing, another year or so is but a blink of an eye.

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