Editorial: the Bison Bridge is an odd concept with real possibility

At first blush the Bison Bridge concept is strange. Very strange. Why would anyone put a herd of bison on a deteriorating bridge across the Mississippi River? How would that even work?

But the oddity of the concept might just be brilliant enough to work if the myriad of government entities tasked with replacing the Interstate 80 bridge can grasp the idea and get out of the way.

Communities and regions across the United States are desperately trying to differentiate themselves from one another especially as workforce challenges are becoming more dire and appear to have no remedy in sight.

So how does the Quad Cities region, which straddles two states, differentiate itself and put itself on the map? Sure we have great businesses and some compelling attractions, but what really stands out nationally or internationally?

Focusing on the Mississippi River is key to any regional success and creating something undoubtedly unique could be just the ticket to helping people think differently (or think at all) about the Quad Cities.

The Bison Bridge concept was unveiled in 2021 by Chad Pregracke, the intrepid Quad Cities river champion. Mr. Pregracke, who has earned the respect and admiration of tens of thousands of people with his tireless passion and advocacy for the Mississippi River and other waterways, seeks to convert the current I-80 bridge into a wildlife and pedestrian nature crossing, which would include a herd of bison and possibly work to attain national park status.

The biggest challenge is with the governmental entities which are tasked with creating alternatives to replacing the aging I-80 bridge between LeClaire, Iowa, and Rapids City, Illinois.

“It’s too early to speculate on the ability to reuse the bridge,” said Tony Pakeltis, project manager with Parsons, the bridge consultant on the project. “The ability to use the existing bridge is not considered as part of the existing study.” 

But he added: “Several alternatives may not require demolition of the current structure.” If the preferred alternative that eventually is selected does not require demolition, Mr. Pakeltis said  “then further discussion of reusing the bridge can take place.” 

What needs to happen now is the region and our federal delegations need to help these governmental entities realize what can be done, not what can’t be done. Comments on this idea can be given to the Iowa and Illinois Departments of Transportation (DOT) throughout the study.

“We feel it would be a missed opportunity not to explore this concept fully and transparently, and we will continue to advocate for meaningful dialogue about it,” Visit Quad Cities President and CEO Dave Herrell said in a statement. “This is about the Quad Cities of the future, our story, and the legacy that we all want to create for generations.” 

Well said.

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