A long-simmering goal for the City of Bettendorf has a chance to move off the back burner in 2022 thanks to continued growth in the Forest Grove Drive/Middle Road corridor marked by the TBK Bank Sports Complex.
Discussions about reconstructing the Interstate 80 interchange at Middle Road picked up steam last month when high-level administrators from the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) met with city officials.
Since 2014, Bettendorf has had an Interchange Justification Report (IJR) approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). The IJR is a comprehensive measuring document, which took roughly seven years to prepare, according to Brent Morlok, Bettendorf’s city engineer.
The plan calls for replacing the existing interchange with a more modern tight diamond design to help accommodate ever-increasing traffic in the area.
“There was definitely some support (for the interchange reconstruction),” Mr. Morlock said. “It’s been right on the short list, as they defined it, for the past couple of years that they’ve been going through budgets. We’re hoping with what we’re able to show what is happening in that area that we’re going to get this thing in their five-year plan hopefully this coming year.”
According to the DOT, the project has received federal approval but has not yet received funding for construction.
In an email, IDOT Transportation Planner Sam Shea said “The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will increase federal highway funding provided to the State of Iowa, that increase will likely lead to a greater number of highway projects.” However, he added that they could not specify what specific projects.
Already on the docket for 2022 is Bettendorf’s Phase 3 reconstruction of Forest Grove Drive through the intersection with Middle Road as well as improving Middle Road between Forest Grove and just south of the I-80 ramps.
The projects also dovetail with a business development being planned on agricultural land east of Middle Road – between Forest Grove and I-80. TBK Bank Sports Complex is considering an expansion at that location.
“I think everybody is aware that the DOT has studied hard the six-lane-ing of I-80, and obviously we’re fully supportive of that,” Mr. Morlok said.
“We are the only interchange along that path that actually has this IJR,” he added. “So, we really feel that we are set and ready to proceed — especially given the traffic volumes that we’re seeing now on Middle and Forest Grove and what we know is coming on the east side.”
The city is committed to continuing to advocate for the updated interchange. “We at least had the right people in the room during that meeting…,” Mr. Morlok added. “They’re going to do some work with their staff to see if there’s anything else they need from our end.”
In an email to the Quad Cities Regional Business Journal, Shea wrote “We see this area is showing an increase in traffic using the interchange. The Iowa DOT will continue to assess traffic, safety and operational concerns when evaluating future needs.”
Previously, the city was responsible for a Federal Surface Transportation Block Grant that funded the IJR, Mr. Morlok said. He added that the city still needs to acquire a small corner of right-away to be ready for upgrading the interchange.
A renovated I-80 interchange at Middle opens up a world of economic possibilities for Bettendorf.
“We’ve had some solicitations and interest on the north side of Interstate 80,” said Jeff Reiter, the city’s economic development director. “We have some property out there that the city owns, and we’ve had some inquiries from manufacturing and industrial users.
“But I guess you would say that the notion the city has right now is the TBK Bank Sports Complex and all that retail out there has really set a strong tone for tourism,” he said. “And with any expansion that would come there east of Middle Road, we think that corridor is really going to be a tourism, pedestrian-friendly, welcoming area to Bettendorf.”
In long-range planning with the Bettendorf City Council, Mr. Reiter said the council “looked at manufacturing industrial uses out there as something that might not really fit the region.”
However, once the east side of Middle Road is developed in the near future, “you’re going to see expansion to the north of Interstate 80. So that interchange at I-80 and Middle is really going to blow up into a pretty substantial tourism corridor with a lot of commercial uses that support it,” Mr. Reiter added.
Instead, he foresees manufacturing and industrial uses as a better fit a little farther north of the interchange – in the area north of Indiana Avenue.
Growth in the area southeast of the sports complex also adds to the future needs of an updated interchange. Three housing subdivisions have been approved adjacent to each other in that area spanning between Forest Grove Drive and Hopewell Avenue, according to Mr. Reiter.
Additionally, the new Forest Grove Elementary School is less than a mile east of the sports complex on Forest Grove Drive.
“So for roads related to both the new school and TBK, I also expect to see several more additions in that area above the 120 homes that were approved this past year and are already under construction,” Mr. Reiter said.