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Plans to build a one-of-a-kind landmark – called the Bison Bridge over the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities – are facing a critical juncture. In a few days, the bridge project could move forward – or be dead in the water. That’s the word from Chad Pregracke, president and founder of Living Lands & Waters and leader of the Bison Bridge Project. Mr. Pregracke was the guest speaker Tuesday, Nov. 7, at a Bettendorf Business Network (BBN) monthly luncheon. The proposed Bison Bridge project centers on the ongoing plans to build a new Interstate 80 bridge over the river. Plans to replace the current I-80 bridge are in the works. Mr. Pregracke and his supporters are hoping to save the current bridge from eventual demolition and turn it into a park and recreational crossing. “It’s a land bridge, consisting of a wildlife and recreational crossing connecting the Illinois and Iowa riverfronts on the Mississippi River. With the right support, we hope to turn it into a National Park site for visitors to enjoy for generations. The Bison Bridge Foundation has been established to repurpose the I-80 bridge,” according to the foundation’s website. Those big plans for a “new vision for an old bridge” could get a boost or come to an ending point during an upcoming online meeting to update the public on the progress of the I-80 bridge work. The Illinois Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Transportation, will hold a fourth online public meeting to present study information, review the preferred new bridge site, and receive public comment as part of the I-80 bridge study. That meeting will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15. To register to attend the meeting and visit the project website, read here. More information on that meeting also can be found at the Bison Bridge Foundation Facebook page. The DOTs have held past online meetings to discuss the future of the current I-80 bridge and its replacement. Mr. Pregracke told the BBN crowd that if transportation officials say on Nov. 15 that the new I-80 bridge will be built essentially on the same location as the current bridge, that span would have to be torn down to make room for the new structure. And that means the Bison Bridge project would be over. However, he is hopeful that transportation officials will announce the new bridge will be built at a different location and leave room to convert the old span into a Bison Bridge. That conversion could happen in about six years, Mr. Pregracke said during the BBN meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, Bettendorf. That meeting attracted about 40 business and community leaders. As part of his program, Mr. Pregracke gave a 20-minute presentation on the privately funded Bison Bridge project, and shared his hopes that it will become a reality that will attract people from all over the world to the Quad Cities. “Is this a wild concept? Hell, yes, it’s a wild concept. … But that’s how big things happen,” he said. Mr. Pregracke added that many great plans were once considered “wild concepts” before they were built. He gave the example of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. That arch, which was completed in 1965, was once considered a wild, expensive idea. Today, the arch is the symbol of that city and attracts tourists from around the world. The Bison Bridge can do the same for the Quad Cities, he said. A big advantage the region has in the bridge project is that, unlike the arch project, the community will not have to start from scratch. The main structure is already in place with the I-80 bridge, he added. Also, the Bison Bridge project would not use tax money; the project is being privately funded. The “current estimate” to turn the old bridge into a Bison Bridge is $20 million, according to the project’s website. “People will come from all over the world to see this,” Mr. Pregracke said. Many of those tourists could be attracted by the bison traveling across the bridge from one feeding area to another between Iowa and Illinois. (Mr. Pregracke envisions a “small herd” of about eight to nine animals for the project.) However, he adds the project will be about much more than a small herd of bison. It will be a multi-use site that will also serve as a recreational trail crossing connecting the two states. “The ultimate goal is to make the Quad Cities a better place and keep it relevant,” he added.