A new Interstate 74 Bridge helped Denise Bulat celebrate her 20th anniversary as the executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission. Now only six months since that span officially opened, Ms. Bulat said a new Interstate 80 bridge is taking a significant step toward becoming a reality in the Quad Cities, too.
The Illinois Department of Transportation, (DOT) is hosting an online public meeting Wednesday, May 11, to present preliminary findings of a Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) study first launched in 2020.
Held in partnership with the Iowa DOT, the virtual meeting will be from 4-5:30 p.m., with participants logging in with a name and email address. Meeting participants must register at the project website, www.i80mississippibridge.com.
As a veteran of public works projects, Ms. Bulat urges anyone interested to watch the presentation – which includes a video, other exhibits, and representatives from both states on the project team for a question-and-answer period. Participants also can offer feedback.
“If there’s something you think should be considered in the overall analysis, then you should be involved,” she said.
“Getting in early now so they can consider those potential improvements is better than coming in at a later stage — like after the final environmental impact statement is done. That’s too late because alternatives were already looked at. Decisions were already made. Now is the time to make comment and shape the discussions.”
According to the Illinois DOT, the study of the Mississippi River crossing includes approximately six miles from the I-88/I-80 interchange in East Moline to Southwest 35th Street overpass in Bettendorf to Pleasant Valley Junior High School.
Opened in 1966, the span continues to face “costly maintenance expenses,” the DOTs said, after “significant repairs and rehabilitation in recent years.” The roadway design does not meet current standards, either — and traffic continues to increase on the bridge, according to the project justification.
“This stage of the process actually can eliminate some (project) alternatives, so it is a good time to weigh in,” Ms. Bulat urged.
“They are going to be doing some general environmental setting and impact overviews. It also includes right of way in terms of how much land they have to take and buy from where, and those kinds of overall alternatives.”
The I-80 bridge was renamed the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge in 1995 for the late eight-term U.S. congressman from Davenport who was key in getting the Interstate Highway Act passed into law.
A year ago, Mississippi River cleanup champion Chad Pregracke announced the creation of a foundation to push for repurposing the I-80 bridge – when the replacement is built – into a Bison Bridge, a wildlife crossing and pedestrian parkway.
Ms. Bulat said the I-80 Bridge also could cost significantly less than the I-74 Bridge by opting for a simpler design.
Project timelines and other construction considerations could be discussed, too – such as using one span to continue allowing traffic in either direction during bridge work, as happened during new I-74 Bridge construction.
“I’m very thankful that whenever reconstruction begins on the I-80 bridge that we have now the new I-74 bridge that can take on additional traffic,” Ms. Bulat said. “And the I-280 Bridge is having full-depth reconstruction – one side was done last year, the other side is being done this year – and so it should be in very good shape when (the I-80 project) moves forward.”
The Iowa DOT also is conducting a sister study of the I-80 corridor in the Iowa Quad Cities, from the start of the bridge project stretching west about three miles past the I-280 interchange between west Davenport and Walcott. That project calls for updating interchanges and widening I-80 to six lanes — three in each direction.
Ms. Bulat said her organization – which helps coordinate projects among the many local municipalities — has been advocating for both those improvements for many years, “because there are some safety issues at almost every interchange.”
In fact, because of ever-increasing traffic at the TBK Bank Sports Complex, Bettendorf’s nearby and antiquated Middle Road interchange has become a hot topic in the last six months for the Iowa DOT.
“That one looks like it has the potential to be pulled forward into what’s called the Transportation Improvement Program (for 2022), and that pretty much tees it up to be constructed within approximately a five-year period,” Ms. Bulat said.
“The reconstruction of that entire interchange really is needed. But in all honesty, the U.S. 61 interchange, or the Brady Street interchange – however, you identify that — is also very high traffic and really has some major safety issues when traffic attempts to merge in or off of the Interstate.”
The I-80 bridge study is expected to conclude in late 2023 with a project recommendation.
Materials will remain available after the online May 11 meeting at i80mississippibridge.com. Comments about the project received through Wednesday, May 25, will become part of the public record.