Illinois and Iowa transportation planners unveiled seven alternatives for replacing the aging Interstate 80 bridge, including one that would close the interstate for four years and demolish the old bridge.
The seven alternatives, all now in the conceptual stage, as well as separate alternatives to improve the interchanges at I-80/Interstate 88 and at I-88 and old Illinois Route 2, were unveiled during a virtual public meeting Wednesday afternoon. Hosted by the Illinois and Iowa departments of transportation (DOT), the presentation featured six project team members, including DOT leaders and representatives of the consultant Parsons Corp.
While some of the alternatives could potentially leave the existing span in tact – and open the door to the Bison Bridge concept by Chad Pregracke’s Living Lands & Waters – the panel made it abundantly clear that the project’s purpose is to create a structurally sound river crossing, improve safety on the I-80 bridge and interchanges, and improve the deficiencies and problem roadway geometrics throughout the corridor.
Tony Pakeltis, project manager at Parsons Corp., said it was too early to speculate on what would happen to the current bridge. But he, and other speakers, repeatedly said they were aware of the Bison Bridge idea and its desire to re-use the old I-80 bridge and convert it into a river crossing parkway for wildlife and visitors.
He told the virtual crowd that “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.”
Mr. Pakeltis said when a preferred alternative is eventually selected, if it does not require demolition, “then further discussion of re-using the bridge can take place.”
Mike Kuehn of the Illinois DOT stressed that the study must consider all the different impacts of each alternative presented from the stakeholders and landowners impacted to the environmental concerns, historic and cultural impacts, right-of-way and the potential loss of prime farm ground depending on the eventual preferred alternative.
The meeting, which had been scheduled for 90 minutes, lasted nearly two and a half hours as the panel presented the study’s preliminary findings and fielded questions submitted by the virtual attendees. This actually marked the second public meeting (the first was in April 2020) concerning the I-80 Mississippi River Bridge study.
The latest public meeting drew 700 registrations with more than 400 participants watching the presentation. They included federal and state elected officials; area county and municipal leaders and staff; media; and representatives from emergency services, education, health care, planning and transportation, area businesses, chambers and community interest groups.
Questions ran the gamut from traffic concerns and detours during bridge construction, if waterway and river channel improvements are being considered as well as inquiries about including a bike path, hydro-electricity generation. Attendees also wanted a possible price tag and to know whether or not impacts on economic development and tourism were factoring into the decision making.
Mark Peterson, of Parsons Corp., said there will be much more detailed analysis of traffic volumes, detours and impacts once a preferred alternative is advanced. That Traffic Management Plan also could consider the costs of the alternative and construction to road users.
“At this point, we can’t compare one alternative’s cost to another,” Mr. Pakelitis said, adding that the next stage will begin “to determine costs for the alternatives carried forward.”
“No one is saying we are not looking at costs as part of the project, we just are not at that stage,” he added after a question was raised about demolition costs. Attendees wanted to know if the $3 million that would be spent on demolishing the old span would factor into decision-making.
Another question centered around lessons learned on the new Interstate 74 bridge construction project. Both Becky Marruffo and Sam Shea, of the Illinois and Iowa DOTs, respectively, spoke to how the experience led to improved relationships and collaboration not only between the DOTs but with other stakeholder groups and agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the railroad.
Many of the speakers stressed how the entire study must follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which is required any time a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action.
“NEPA expressly does not allow for consideration of potential economic development,” Ms. Marruffo said. “The analysis must be based on impacts on the human environment and other elements of the environment.”
Mr. Shea added that the project team’s task is “to design a transportation facility that meets the need and the purpose.”
While the Bison Bridge was alluded to several times, and a contingent of supporters were on the call, transportation leaders said the first goal is to follow the NEPA process. “If there is an option for re-use of the bridge,” Ms. Marruffo said the agencies would be involved in those conversations. But ultimately, the decision on the new bridge project lies with the FHWA.
After the meeting, both Living Lands & Waters and Visit Quad Cities sent out statements weighing in on the Bison Bridge concept.
“The Bison Bridge team thought the I-80 Mississippi River Bridge meeting was very encouraging and that Illinois and Iowa Departments of Transportation, as well as Parsons, conducted the meeting well,” Mr. Pregracke, founder of the Bison Bridge Foundation, said. “We are encouraged that the plans discussed had the consideration to keep the existing structure for the use of a pedestrian and wildlife crossing as a possibility.”
Visit Quad Cities also continues to show its support for the Bison Bridge. “To build a destination that is compelling, creates visibility for your brand, and generates tourism demand is squarely on the minds of every community and state around the country,” Visit Quad Cities President and CEO Dave Herrell said. “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. This is about the Quad Cities of the future, our story, and the legacy that we all want to create for generations.”
Mr. Pregracke also urged Bison Bridge supporters to use the public comment process to let their support be known.
All comments received by Wednesday, May 25, concerning all aspects of the project will become part of the public meeting record. However, transportation leaders said comments and questions will be welcome throughout the entire I-80 study process.
For more information and to make comments, visit I80mississippibridge.com.