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Hopes for a local tourist attraction called the Bison Bridge were officially trampled Wednesday, Nov. 15. During an online public meeting to discuss plans for a new Interstate 80 Mississippi River Bridge, the Illinois and Iowa Departments of Transportation jointly shot down the novel idea of repurposing the existing Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge into a multi-use path and nature conservatory featuring a herd of bison. Instead, the nearly 57-year-old bridge will be demolished to clear the way for two new spans on the heavily truck-trafficked river crossing between LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois. The project is estimated to cost $288 million, and funds have already been budgeted by both states. Parsons Corp., the project’s engineering consultant, studied for more than a year a list of four finalist alternatives for the new bridge’s pathway. Alternative 5 was unveiled as the preferred option during the meeting because of a combination of cost effectiveness and the lowest amount of environmental impacts, according to the three Parsons engineers on the meeting panel. “The further we get from the existing alignment, the more we are going to be impacting the adjacent properties,” Mike Kuehn, of the Illinois DOT, said while noting there was no perfect choice. “Go 20 feet either way, it’s going to impact a little. Go 50 feet, it’s going to impact more. Our goal is to try and minimize impacts on homes, businesses and the environment while maintaining (the project’s) purpose and need.” Construction is expected to begin within 25-100 feet west of the current bridge, said Todd Ude of Parsons. Once completed, all I-80 traffic moves to the first new span – which will offer two lanes in each direction – while the existing bridge is removed to clear the way for a new companion bridge in its place. Save for some brief ramp closures, Mr. Kuehn said I-80 will remain open to traffic throughout an estimated four-year bridge construction effort – with the start coming as early as 2027. Alternatives 2 and 4, which left open possibilities for a Bison Bridge, were dismissed by planners because of “greater residential relocations, commercial property impacts, and wetland impact,” according to the online panel and materials provided at the meeting. Alternative 3 – which offered an option within 100 feet east of the existing bridge – was dismissed due to higher environmental impacts than Alternative 5. Overall, seven alternatives were considered for the new bridge pathway, with three eliminated in the last online public meeting in October 2022. As part of the project, the preferred option for a reimaged I-80/I-88 interchange two miles east of the bridge in Illinois also was identified during the meeting. "While the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we appreciate the opportunity to have been part of the decision-making process,” local environmentalist Chad Pregracke, president and founder of the Bison Bridge Foundation, said in a released statement. “The Bison Bridge project faces new challenges, and we are evaluating the next steps to determine the best course of action.”