By Ed Tibbetts
By now people in the Quad-Cities know building a bridge across the Mississippi River takes time.
The major investments study that kicked off planning for the new Interstate 74 bridge began when Bill Clinton was president. And while development of a possible new Interstate 80 bridge isn’t as involved, construction funding is still years into the future.
In other words, these things take time. So it also will be with whatever is decided about the future of the Centennial Bridge.
Illinois Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have publicly raised the prospect of studying replacement of the span, a development earlier reported by the Quad-Cities Regional Business Journal.
The Illinois and Iowa DOTs have plugged funding into their long-range transportation plans over the last two years for a $6 million painting project for the bridge – possibly for as early as fiscal year 2023. But it appears officials in both states are thinking a bit bigger about the bridge that connects Rock Island and Davenport.
Paul Wappel, a spokesman for the Illinois DOT, said the cost of the painting project would be shared equally between the two states. But he added, “due to the age of the bridge, (82 years) a potential study for the possible replacement of the structure might be considered and then evaluated.”
Mr. Wappel said the possibility of a replacement study has been under discussion between the two states for several years. However, at a meeting this spring with the Bi-State Regional Commission’s Transportation Policy Committee, an Illinois DOT official reported that when the I-80 study was completed, the Centennial Bridge was next for an alternative analysis, said Denise Bulat, Bi-State’s executive director.
“That was … good news to everyone,” she said.
Officials from Rock Island and Davenport have increasingly expressed concerns about the Centennial Bridge, whose formal name is the Stanley Talbot Memorial Bridge. The span is a major connection between the two cities carrying more than 30,000 vehicles on an average day. The bridge is on U.S. Highway 67.
The two states share responsibility for cross-river bridges in the Quad-Cities, and Illinois is the lead state for the Centennial Bridge.
In recent years, the need for repairs on the bridge have increased, according to local transportation experts. Mr. Wappel echoed that saying “the ongoing maintenance costs and traffic disruptions that result from repair needs are part of the impetus” for considering a study.
Neither state has plugged money into its long-range plans for studying a possible replacement, but it appears there could be money for a study in 2025.
Sam Shea, an Iowa DOT transportation planner, said since Illinois is the lead state, “we are deferring to their recommendation for a Preliminary Engineering study to determine if a bridge replacement is appropriate. I’m not sure when they plan to begin that study. They have asked us to consider our half of the study funding in 2025.” He said the two states typically meet in September to discuss cross-border bridges.
Currently, much of the focus on major bridges in the Quad-Cities is on completing the Interstate 74 project, which opened eight months ago, as well as planning for the future of the Interstate 80 bridge. The Iowa DOT has plugged $100 million into its five-year transportation plan for the I-80 bridge, with $50 million scheduled for fiscal year 2026 and another $50 million for fiscal year 2027.
Illinois DOT has given a “rough, preliminary estimate” of $500 million for whatever alternative is chosen for the I-80 bridge, said Gena McCullough, assistant executive director/planning for the Bi-State Regional Commission.
Illinois had not yet published its 2023-2028 multi-year program at presstime. Typically, it updates its plans during the summer months.
The study of I-80 alternatives is expected to be completed next year. In May, planners presented seven possible construction alternatives for the span. It ruled out rebuilding the bridge with the existing substructure and said the “no-build” option doesn’t meet the project’s needs.
In addition to the tens of thousands of vehicles that cross the Centennial Bridge per day, the span connects the central business districts of Davenport and Rock Island – making it a vital link between those two municipalities.
According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, the bridge is the most traveled, structurally deficient bridge in the State of Iowa.
Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said he and Davenport Mayor Mike Matson have been increasingly raising concerns about the bridge to the Illinois DOT over the past six months. “We want it to be looked at. It’s necessary,” Mr. Thoms said. “It doesn’t rate well, so we’re concerned about that.”
The Iowa DOT says the bridge is rated in “poor” condition, one of 30 spans across the state under its jurisdiction that are in that condition.
Still, it is likely to be awhile before there is significant movement on whatever is decided for the Centennial Bridge. “We all know these studies, unfortunately, take time,” Ms. Bulat said.
However, Mr. Thoms said it is important to get the process moving.
“We don’t want to be forgotten,” he said. “We want to be on their radar.”
QC bridge improvements make Iowa DOT 5-year plan
A range of bridge improvements in the Quad-Cities, big and small, are included in Iowa’s five-year transportation plan. It’s part of a continued effort by the state transportation department to chip away at the large number of spans in the state that need repairs.
For years, Iowa has been criticized for being one of the worst states in the country for the number of structurally deficient bridges. That continues to be the case.
However, the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) said in its five-year plan it is making significant progress on reducing the spans in its inventory that are in the worst condition. (Most bridges in the state are owned by counties, not the state.)
The Iowa DOT’s plan, which was approved in June, includes millions of dollars for some of the Quad-Cities’ highest profile bridges. Among the projects is $100 million over two years for replacement of the Interstate 80 bridge, which is currently under study with the State of Illinois. That money is programmed for fiscal years 2026 and 2027.
Meanwhile, nearly $2.4 million is planned for fiscal year 2023 (which began July 1) for the pedestrian bridge and letdown structure at the new Interstate 74 span in Bettendorf.
In addition, the Iowa DOT’s plan includes $3 million in fiscal 2023 to paint the Stanley W. Talbot Memorial Bridge (more commonly known as Centennial Bridge).
There also are a number of lower-profile bridges that the DOT’s plan has scheduled for improvements through fiscal year 2027 in the Iowa Quad-Cities, including:
- The bridge over Duck Creek on Brady Street in Davenport is slated for replacement this fiscal year, with about $4.4 million earmarked for that project. Sam Shea, an Iowa DOT transportation planner, said work is scheduled to begin next spring. That will entail some lane closures, but the road will remain open throughout the work.
- The bridge over Duck Creek on Harrison Street in Davenport will be replaced at a cost of about $3.6 million, but that work isn’t expected to take place until fiscal year 2025.
- A span on West River Drive just east of Iowa Highway 22 is slated for nearly $1.9 million in improvements to the bridge deck, in fiscal year 2024.
Iowa has been laboring to whittle the number of bridges across the state that are in “poor” condition, meaning they’ll need repairs or replacement soon. The DOT says it has cut the number of bridges in that condition from 256 in 2016 to 30 in 2022.
That does not include city- and county-owned bridges. An Iowa DOT report last year said there were about 4,500 county- and city-owned bridges in poor condition, the vast majority of which are county-owned.
Still, the state has made progress in reducing its inventory of bridges in poor condition. Overall, the state owns about 4,200 bridges.
In a statement, the agency said this year’s five-year plan “includes over $1.3 billion of investments in Iowa’s state-owned bridges which continues the objective to improve (the) condition of Iowa’s bridges. We have increased the amount of funding targeted towards bridges over the last several years including an increase of approximately $100 million compared with the last year’s program.”
Between 2016 and 2022, three of four bridges in Scott County classified as “poor” were repaired but two have been added – bringing the current number in that category to three. Included on that list is the Talbot Memorial Bridge.
The Iowa Legislature’s approval of a 10-cent a gallon gasoline tax increase in 2015 has contributed to the state’s ability to ramp up improvements to its inventory of bridges, along with other infrastructure projects.
Iowa has one of the largest number of bridges of any state in the country. Over the five years of the new multi-year program, about $500 million in additional funding is available, the DOT said. The agency outlined dozens of bridge improvements, along with other infrastructure projects, in its five-year plan that were specifically funded with the increased revenue, including pending improvements to the span on West River Drive near Iowa Highway 22.
In Clinton County, about $400,000 in improvements this fiscal year to a span on Iowa Highway 136 were attributed to the increased revenue, along with $2.6 million for pavement rehabilitation and paved shoulders on a nearly nine-mile stretch of Iowa Highway 136 from U.S. 61 to Lost Nation.
Clinton County also will see a number of improved bridges in the five-year plan. About $2.6 million for a right-of-way acquisition for a new bridge on U.S. Highway 30 – spanning a railroad – is earmarked for fiscal year 2023, along with $8.5 million in 2025 for the bridge itself near County Road Y4E. Another $2.7 million is in the plan for a U.S. 30 bridge near there.
Also, five bridges on Highway 136 in the county are slated for improvements in fiscal year 2025 at a total cost of about $5.6 million.
In Muscatine County, about $1.2 million is scheduled for this fiscal year for bridge deck improvements to two spans on U.S. Highway 6 near Iowa Highway 38. In 2024, the plan outlines about $400,000 in rehabilitation work for the Iowa Highway 92 bridge there spanning the Mississippi River, as well as another $2.5 million in 2027.