Time to show support for Quad Cities I-80 Bison Bridge is now

Organizers urge comments, reveal $2M donor commitment

Bison Bridge
A rendering of the Bison Bridge. CREDIT BISON BRIDGE FOUNDATION

From its Facebook Live launch in 2021 through countless local interviews, meetings, national and international media coverage – and even a traveling Bison sculpture – the concept of creating a Bison Bridge on the Quad Cities region’s Interstate 80 bridge has gotten people thinking.

But river champion Chad Pregracke, whose Living Lands & Waters (LLW) organization first introduced the idea of converting the old bridge (when a new I-80 bridge is built) into a wildlife and recreational crossing, said now is the time for supporters to share their support with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). 

Mr. Pregracke, who made his mark on the region and beyond with his Mississippi River cleanups, encourages those who want to see a Bison Bridge realized to participate in a public virtual meeting with IDOT on Wednesday, May 11. 

The vision pitched for Bison Bridge is to create an interactive National Park across the Mississippi River for tourists and locals to enjoy the river valley’s natural beauty. Features being considered would include a small herd of wild Bison — and an expert to manage the wildlife. But the proposed project would require the old I-80 Bridge being re-used – and not demolished – once a new I-80 bridge is built. To learn more about plans to create a land bridge and Join the Herd, visit https://bisonbridge.org.

“The Bison Bridge has come a long way as far as kicking it off,” the environmentalist told the QCBJ in a phone interview on Friday, May 6. 

In another key development, Mr. Pregracke said he has received a personal commitment from a potential donor for at least $2 million for the future project’s creation. However, LLW has not launched any formal fundraising because the project is only in the conceptual stage. He declined to identify the donor except to say he is a longtime friend who was involved in the transportation business and does not live in the Quad Cities.  

But to date, the Bison Bridge Foundation’s plans are not in consideration for IDOT’s Phase 1 engineering plan and Mr. Pregracke hopes widespread public support can help change that. 

“It’s not a bad thing, we’re not in their (initial plans) because this is the opportunity to be heard,” he said of this week’s meeting. “This is a very viable project, the only thing that would stop it would be IDOT because it’s an ‘outside-the-box’ project.” 

The IDOT will host a virtual public meeting from 4-5:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 11, to present its preliminary findings and take comments as part of the agency’s I-80 Mississippi River Bridge study. To register, click here

During the online meeting, IDOT will discuss alternatives for replacing the circa 1967 bridge, known since 1995 as the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge in honor of the late U.S. Congressman from Davenport who was a key figure in the Interstate Highway Act.

“We do believe the public comment period is our biggest opportunity to have our voice heard for sure,” said Matt Hughes, the president of Springfield, Illinois-based MRH Solutions LLC, who is consulting the Bison Bridge project.

While he, too, was not surprised that Bison Bridge is not included in the engineering study phase, Mr. Hughes added “I’m not frustrated with IDOT in any way.” Though the Bison Bridge Foundation continues to work to get an audience with the transportation department.

“We know we’ve got a lot of people supporting this thing, but we also have to be patient and play by the process the state has laid out for this,” Mr. Hughes said, adding, “Our supporters need to understand the process.”  

Over the 14 months since Mr. Pregracke unveiled the idea for Bison Bridge at an in-person/online event at The Rust Belt venue in East Moline, organizers have amassed a total of 38,505 signatures in support of the project – closing in on their goal of 50,000 signatures. 

Mr. Hughes said one of the most recent key wins in raising awareness was the Illinois House of Representatives’ passage of a bi-partisan resolution that urges Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the IDOT to consider the Bison Bridge in its options. 

The bill’s chief sponsor was State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island. 

According to Mr. Hughes, the resolution allowed “us to speak publicly about the type of support this topic has generated. It doesn’t bind the Illinois DOT to anything per se, but it was our attempt to quantify the support we’ve received.” 

Mr. Hughes said efforts are underway to get similar support from the Iowa Quad Cites delegation. 

“The project still is conceptual at this point, but we don’t think it will be for long,” Mr. Hughes said. 

Mr. Pregracke, a Quad Cities native, said supporters need to understand all the steps involved and not be discouraged. The legislature’s resolution, he said “was a big thing. That takes the temperature of all the representatives and what they think of this.” 

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