RI County, LeClaire to partner on new I-80 bridge bike path

The Illinois and Iowa Departments of Transportation co-hosted an online meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 15, to discuss options for a new I-80 Mississippi River Bridge. From four finalists for the bridge path, and three finalists for a new I-80/I-88 interchange, Options 5 and B were the preferred picks. This screenshot from the meeting reflects those choices. CREDIT IOWA AND ILLINOIS DEPARTMENTS OF TRANSPORTATION

Rock Island County and the City of LeClaire jointly announced Thursday, May 16, they have agreed to partner on a bicycle and pedestrian path to cross the new Interstate 80 bridge. 

The new bridge, which is currently in the design phase, will replace what is formally known as the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge. The existing 57-year-old Mississippi River bridge will be demolished to clear the way for two new I-80 spans on the heavily truck-trafficked crossing that links LeClaire in Iowa and Rapids City in Illinois. 

In a news release Thursday, the two local governments said the new recreational path will connect the Great River Trail on the Illinois side of the river to paths on the Iowa side – including those being planned in the City of LeClaire.

“We recognize this as a tremendous, once in a lifetime opportunity to help further expand an already robust trail system that our county and region are known for, far and wide,” Rock Island County Board Chairman Richard “Quijas” Brunk said in the release.

Letters of Understanding with the Illinois DOT were recently authorized by both the Rock Island County Board and LeClaire City Council. Each letter commits to a 50% responsibility for maintaining the path once it is built, similar to the arrangement for the multi-use path on the new Interstate 74 Bridge, between Bettendorf and Moline.

“We are thankful to the Iowa and Illinois Departments of Transportation for their consideration of including this trail in the planning of the new I-80 bridge,” LeClaire Mayor Dennis Gerard said, adding “We are excited about the prospect of joining our city’s expanding trail system with the trail system across the river.”

The idea to include a recreational path on the new river span was brought up during a series of virtual public meetings hosted by the Illinois and Iowa transportation departments to discuss the I-80 bridge project. 

During a meeting in May 2022, the DOTs announced that the possible alignment alternatives had been narrowed down from seven to four. At the time, that left open an opportunity for the old bridge to be repurposed into a proposed Bison Bridge. 

But then last November, the DOTs jointly shot down the novel idea of the Bison Bridge, which would have transformed the old I-80 bridge into a multi-use path and nature conservatory featuring a herd of bison. Instead, under the preferred alternative alignment the existing bridge spans will need to be demolished.

After a lengthy study by the project’s consultant, Parsons Corp., the option known as Alternative 5 was selected because of a combination of cost effectiveness and the lowest amount of environmental impacts.

The project is estimated to cost $288 million, and funds have already been budgeted by both states. 

Built in 1967, the DOTs have said that the I-80 bridge continues to face “costly maintenance expenses,” even after “significant repairs and rehabilitation in recent years.” 

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