“A proud day in the Quad Cities”: Dozens of QC leaders, state, federal and local officials celebrate new I-74 bridge

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A view of the crowd Wednesday morning on the just-completed Illinois-bound bridge span for the $1.2-billion I-74 bridge (photo by Bryan Bobb)

A blazing sun and warm temperatures for a December day appropriately greeted the hundreds and hundreds of people who on Wednesday celebrated the long-awaited completion of the $1.2-billion I-74 bridge.

At 11 a.m., an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony was held by the Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and the QC communities — on the empty, recently finished Illinois-bound span — to recognize the conclusion of the four-and-a-half year, complex construction project.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (center) takes part in the ribbon cutting Wednesday for the completed I-74 bridge. From left are Rock Island County Board chairman Richard Brunk, Iowa DOT secretary Scott Marler, Illinois DOT Omer Osman, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, and Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati secretary (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (who couldn’t attend due to a prior family commitment) provided an official statement and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was joined by federal, state and local officials in making public remarks celebrating the opening of the iconic structure, as well as the future of the QC region.

“This new bridge will serve as a vital east-west link for the Midwest. It provides exceptional opportunities to strengthen the economies of Iowa and Illinois and improve regional and global options for moving goods produced in each of our states,” Gov. Reynolds said in a statement. “The I-74 River Bridge illustrates the promise of our states and the Quad Cities communities to all who travel across it. I am thrilled that this majestic bridge will be here for generations to come, helping to bring that promise to fruition.”

Gov. Pritzker pointed to the collaboration between neighbors, communities, and states in delivering a transformational project.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks during the new 74 bridge celebration Wednesday, Dec. 1 photo by Jonathan Turner).

“The I-74 River Bridge is a testament to what is possible when we work together to build a better Midwest,” Pritzker said. “These improvements will support safer and shorter commutes, connect economies across the Mississippi, and spark opportunity across the Quad Cities. I’m proud to celebrate our partnership with the Iowa Department of Transportation and thank them for their leadership.”

The new bridge is anticipated to open to traffic in early December, delivering four lanes in each direction and providing improved safety for commuters.

The bridge includes a 14-foot wide bike and pedestrian path with a scenic overlook and connections to existing paths in both Bettendorf and Moline, anticipated to open by the end of December. The project includes twin river bridges, new interchanges, ramps, and local road reconfigurations to improve mobility and operation, delivering safer and more reliable travel for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

The project was approximately 88.5% federally funded, with Iowa and Illinois DOTs funding their land-based contracts, respectively, and splitting the cost of the river bridge.

“Today I’m very proud to celebrate our partnership, Iowa and Illinois,” Pritzker said, noting the cooperation between the two state DOTs has been inspiring.

“This has been a tremendous work for everybody, and for the good of our society,” he said. Pritzker recognized Doug House of Moline, who is retiring as deputy state DOT secretary at the end of this month.

“We’re taking a critical piece of infrastructure that has been mainly untouched since 1960, and turning it into a centerpiece that residents deserve,” the governor said of the I-74 bridge. “With the creation of four lanes in each direction, full shoulders, a scenic pedestrian path – these improvements will not only support the movement of commercial traffic across the Mississippi River, but will make day-to-day driving and day-to-day living safer for Quad-Cities families.”

A view of the arch from the Illinois-bound span of the bridge (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Pritzker is proud that Rebuild Illinois has allows projects like the new bridge to continue as the state tackles more needed infrastructure projects.

In the QC alone, Rebuild Illinois is helping restore the I-280 bridge, improve the QC International Airport, and build a new Rock Island location for the YWCA.

With $17 billion from the new federal infrastructure plan that’s coming to Illinois, more outstanding improvements are still to come, Pritzker said.

“It wouldn’t be possible without the high-quality workforce in this area and its leaders,” he said, noting Tri-City Building Trades Council, and several other unions. “The tradesmen and women who are building these massive structures for all of us deserve our thanks.”

Bustos and local leaders pile on praise

“This is a proud day in the Quad Cities,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Moline), noting 36 years ago she first crossed the old bridge to her former newspaper job. “I was white-knuckling it at 55 miles an hour,” she said. “I was scared to start my new job, but I was even more scared to drive over that.”

“Just like our ancestors must have been over the moon 86 years ago, when that first opened, our great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren will be equally proud of what we’ve been able to announce here today,” Bustos said.

“We came together, we innovated and we delivered,” she said. “I’m equally proud that about a week ago, President Biden signed into law a $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill, where we’re going to see projects like this all over the country.”

“This basket-handle arch bridge is a unique, one-of-a-kind structure,” said Tim Marshall, Iowa division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration. “The bridge construction used innovative construction materials and methods, and has an extremely resilient design life of 100 years.”

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher noted ribbon-cuttings usually mark openings of new businesses or other amenities.

“Boy, do we have a new amenity to look at today – this is an awesome amenity for our community,” he said. The entire project represents the I-74 corridor from 53rd Street in Davenport to John Deere Road in Moline, and reflects unprecedented partnerships among local, state and federal officials, he said.

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher, left, and Davenport Mayor Mike Matson at Wednesday’s celebration (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This bridge, for decades to come, will change the face of this area and create much-needed catalyst for economic development,” Gallagher said, noting it’s been happening in Moline and Bettendorf. “It’s exciting to experience this development in anticipation of this wonderful bridge opening.”

“People will come from all over to visit us here – to walk or ride across the Mississippi River and look at the observation point, and we can’t wait to welcome them,” he said. “Great things are coming as a result of this historic project and we’re so happy to be able to celebrate it today.”

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati was among many to thank the unions and local contractors who worked on the project.

“Those workers, we so much appreciate your skill, sweat and dedication to quality and safety that have brought this project to fruition,” she said. The bridge opens “a wealth of prospects and opportunities here in the Quad Cities,” Rayapati said. “We have the possibility of a future marked by increased connectivity, commerce and quality of place.

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati, far right, after the ribbon cutting with (from left) Iowa DOT head Scott Marler, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois DOT chief Omer Osman, and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This bridge also offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to refresh our downtown Moline,” she said. “Opening a new era of commerce, housing and tourist experiences that will redefine what it means to live in or visit the Quad Cities.

“That same spirit of collaboration and cooperation we’ve seen in this bridge project will carry us through this new phase of development,” Rayapati said.

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said instead of St. Louis and its famed Gateway Arch, the QC has set a new standard for iconic arches.

“The mantra for what we do in the Quad Cities is partnerships, teamwork and collaboration,” he said.

“It took a long time, but it happened because everyone had the patience and persistence to make it happen,” said Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms, noting the bridge will help boost economic development and overall growth in the area.

“Even though this project touches Moline and Bettendorf, it really touches every corner of the Quad Cities and on, so we thank everybody for that,” he said.

A view of the old twin suspension bridges, which were built nearly 25 years apart and will be torn down in 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner)

East Moline Mayor Reggie Freeman made sure to note the history of the old twin bridges, which opened in 1935 and 1960, respectively. The original two-lane, bi-state Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge was built for $6 million.

From 4,000 vehicles a day in the original bridge to 80,000 a day today, “we’ve come a long way, baby,” Freeman said.

“New hope and opportunity”

“This new I-74 Mississippi River Bridge will join our states and communities, will strengthen our region, and will stand tall in welcoming new hope and opportunity to the Quad Cities and beyond for many years to come,” Iowa DOT Director Scott Marler said, noting it represents the single-largest transportation project in the state’s history.

The new Illinois-bound span of the bridge, before opening to the public for a tour Wednesday, Dec. 1 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It’s a testament to what can be accomplished when we work together toward a common goal,” he said. “As I stand here under the iconic basket-handle arches that serve as a landmark for this area, I’m reminded of the less visible features that will make this bridge stand the test of time.”

They include use of stainless steel, sensors to inform of maintenance needs, and a scenic overlook that will allow pedestrians to enjoy the world-class view, Marler said. “We have all overcome many challenges to get to this point.”

Those include a frigid winter, record flooding in spring 2019, a devastating derecho in August 2020, and a global pandemic that stretched 20 months during construction.

“We have powered through all of these challenges together, to create a bridge that connects the states of Iowa and Illinois, that is iconic, hand-crafted, and creates opportunities for those in our community and beyond.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people took time out of their Wednesday to take a walk on the newly completed Illinois-bound span of the 74 bridge, which will open to traffic within a week (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Gov. Reynolds’ letter said the bridge illustrates the promise of the two states and the QC community. “I am thrilled this majestic bridge will be here for generations to come, helping to bring that promise to fruition,” Marler read from her statement.

Illinois DOT Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said, “The I-74 Bridge is yet another example of bold leadership delivering the type of improvements in infrastructure that will keep this region competitive for many, many years to come. This beautiful new structure is especially meaningful because of our partnership with Iowa and our work with federal, state and local stakeholders.”

He recognized a special guest in the audience, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, from Peoria, who was instrumental in gaining federal funding for the bridge project.

“Clearly, you have put all your energies in a job well done,” Osman said of the bridge. “Today marks a historic occasion for the Quad Cities.”

It is also one of the largest and most important projects in the history of Illinois, he noted. It represents Gov. Pritzker’s commitment to building a 21st-century system of infrastructure in the state, Osman said.

In 2019, Illinois passed the largest transportation program in state history, the $45-billion Rebuild Illinois.

“Bridges such as the one we’ll open in a few days help us maintain a quality of life and get us where we need to go safely, each and every day,” Osman said. “I am honored to be part of today’s festivities, none of which would be possible without the total support of our governor.”

One of the celebratory signs Wednesday on the new bridge.

Connecting the states of Iowa and Illinois, I-74 serves as an important east-west link in the nation’s transportation network. The I-74 corridor serves as a primary crossing of the Mississippi River in the QC area, carrying more than 45% of total vehicular traffic across the river. The I-74 River Bridge project is part of a regional strategy for improving access across the Mississippi River.

The start of better things for the QC

Bustos said later that for most of the 36 years she’s lived in the area, she’s lived in Illinois and worked in Iowa, dreading crossing on the old bridge. “Today that all changes; we don’t have that skinny-laned bridge anymore,” she said. “I like to look at this as really the start of a lot of good news for the Quad Cities.”

“This is what makes the Quad Cities the Quad Cities. We had to come together to make this all happen,” Bustos said. “We planned it, had a vision, executed, and here we are today.”

“You can feel the energy, you can feel the excitement,” said Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities. “You’re feeling that sense of accomplishment. We had great teamwork, cooperation, a lot of hard work by so many people to make this day happen and now it’s here.”

It’s very helpful to have this new landmark structure to help build and sell the QC region for potential businesses, residents and visitors, he said.

A view of part of the pedestrian/bike path that will open by end of December.

“It’s a gathering place; a spot where Quad Citizens can gather,” Herrell said, noting the Mississippi River Trail and American Discovery that meet in the QC. “It’s a great connector.”

“A project like this is a huge thrust in economic development,” he said. “The fact you’ve got these amazing family of communities we’ve got in the Quad Cities, I think are going to see some real results.”

The bridge activates our world-renowned Mississippi River, which is the community’s greatest asset, Herrell said. “The fact that you can actually walk up and down this bridge, that’s a living, breathing thing, is something to be very proud of.”

“It’s an amazing day – 30 years worth of advocacy, partnership, collaboration,” said Paul Rumler, president/CEO of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. “We have now the most reliable piece of infrastructure, the most beautiful piece of infrastructure to connect our region together.”

The bridge opens up new development business attraction possibilities, and ensures the area workforce can travel easily across the river.

“Workforce is critical and we’ve always heard complaints about people who live in one state and work in the other, with the bridge being a bottleneck, and this changes  the Quad Cities for a long, long time to come.”

The investment proves that the region is growing, Rumler said.

On average, over 450 people worked on the project each day during peak construction, which featured over 240,000 cubic yards of concrete, 30 million pounds of rebar, and 70 million pounds of structural steel.

“It shows that the states of Iowa and Illinois are committed to this region, located on the Mississippi River, with these bridges – we need to invest in them,” he said. “To be able to say we have $1.2 billion invested in this community, that shows what we can do as a region, so we have more opportunities to come.”

“It’s a great day for our community and a great day for our region,” said Renew Moline president/CEO Alexandra Elias. Her group has gathered public input on how to redevelop the area around the old bridge, including new residential downtown.

Fulton students the first public group to cross

The general public was invited to stroll on the new Illinois-bound span for free, between 1 and 4 p.m., and a group of 50 eighth-graders from Fulton, Ill., were the first people to get the honor.

“We had no idea it was going to be this awesome,” said Jarek Leonhardt, tech support specialist and STEM teacher at River Bend Middle School in Fulton, an hour’s-drive away from Moline.

A group of Fulton middle-school students gets a tour of the new bridge from project manager George Ryan (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“They’ve had an awesome field trip,” he said, noting they also met first engineers that worked on the foundation of the bridge. Then they got a tour of the bridge with I-74 bridge project manager George Ryan.

“He’s got so much knowledge to share with the kids,” Leonhardt said. “This was an amazing trip for our kids.”

“It’s a great privilege; we were not expecting this,” he said of being the first group to be on the bridge. “We were standing in line and they said, are you in River Bend?, and I said we’re River Bend Middle School, and they said, come with us. It was an amazing privilege. They get first crack at this amazing experience.”

“The arch is amazing; the lights are so pretty,” Leonhardt said of previously crossing the bridge.

Jennie Swords of Andalusia, Ill., said a realtor friend called Tuesday and asked if she wanted to walk on the bridge, and she was so excited to see it open up.

“It’s just really exciting,” said the mortgage lender. “The number of people who have come out to embrace this is just really overwhelming; it’s really cool. I think it’s beautiful and I have friends with Tri-City that have been working on this the whole time, so I’ve been getting updates from time to time, and the challenges that have happened.

Two of the first people who crossed the bridge from the general public carried American flags (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It’s really cool that in our area, the two states can come together and t and easier.o build something so beautiful is incredible,” Swords said. “We’ve always ha issues of people trying to cross from one state to another, and this makes it so much more convenient and easier. There were a lot of people who were scared to cross the old bridge.”

Project Facts and Milestones:

• Construction of the new I-74 River Bridge began in July 2017.

• The basket-handle arch on the Iowa-bound bridge was completed in May 2020.

• The Iowa-bound bridge opened in November 2020.

• The arch on the Illinois-bound bridge was completed in May 2021.

• The old suspension bridges are anticipated to be removed in 2022.

• Contractors on the project include Lunda Construction Co., Helm Group, McCarthy Improvement, Kraemer North America, Walsh Group, Valley Construction, and Langman Construction.

• The design firm of the original I-74 suspension bridges (built in 1935 and 1959), Modjeski and Masters, was also on the design team for the new structure.

• The river bridge is approximately 3,464 feet or 0.66 miles in length.

• The twin, basket-handle arches stand approximately 164 feet above the roadway.

• Two full-size shoulders on each bridge will improve maintenance operations and allow for easier access for crew members and emergency vehicles.

• On average, over 450 people worked on the project each day during peak construction.

• The interstate project includes over 240,000 cubic yards of concrete, 30 million pounds of rebar, and 70 million pounds of structural steel.

• The new I-74 structures will include over 31 miles of conduit, 405 roadway luminaires/lights, and 928 aesthetic lights.

• The new bridge will have LED, color-changing lights, operated by the cities of Bettendorf and Moline.

• In 2016, the Iowa and Illinois departments of transportation and environmental agencies undertook extensive efforts to relocate more than 140,000 mussels considered endangered or threatened species, prior to construction. This relocation effort was one of the largest in the country

• There have been over 80 companies from the Quad Cities and surrounding areas working on or supplying materials for the project.

For more information, visit www.i74riverbridge.com.

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