Illinois lawmakers on Tuesday adopted a bipartisan resolution sponsored by Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island), backing the Bison Bridge Foundation’s proposal to repurpose the I-80 bridge over the Mississippi River.
The planned repurposed bridge would include a wildlife crossing on one side of the bridge and a park-like setting for foot traffic on the other.
Co-sponsors of the resolution include Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna), Rep. Dan Swanson (R-Woodhull), House Republican Leader Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), House Republican Leader Norrine Hammond (R-Macomb), and House Transportation Committee Leader Martin J. Moylan (D-Des Plaines).
The Illinois Department of Transportation has determined the need for a new crossing to replace the existing I-80 bridge, which crosses the Mississippi between Rapids City and LeClaire. The project is currently in Phase I while IDOT completes their initial study and develops proposed alternatives for the new structure, according to a Tuesday release.
IDOT continues to provide updates on the progress of Phase I at https://www.i80mississippibridge.com/, a website dedicated to the project.
Before decisions are made about a new crossing, the IDOT must conduct the NEPA review process on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration. NEPA, or National Environmental Policy Act, requires federal agencies to conduct an environmental review study to determine and consider potential environmental impacts of a proposed project.
During IDOT’s initial engineering phase, which includes the NEPA review process, the Bison Bridge Foundation team, assembled over two years ago, has been working to garner support for the proposal in the QC and beyond.
Led by East Moline environmentalist Chad Pregracke (founder of Living Lands & Waters), the Bison Bridge Foundation has been meeting steadily with lawmakers, community leaders, local and regional stakeholders, engineers, and QC residents to present their proposal to repurpose the I-80 bridge.
To date, the group has collected almost 40,000 signatures of support on their website at www.bisonbridge.org.
What is next?
The Bison Bridge team now looks to the next phase of the NEPA process to continue to attract support for the proposal, the release says. In this next phase, IDOT will conduct requisite public meetings designed to incorporate public input. According to IDOT Region 2 engineer Masood Ahmad, IDOT is hoping to host public meetings on the I-80 Mississippi River Crossing project as early as May 2022.
Matt Hughes, a transportation consultant in the State of Illinois and member of the Bison Bridge Foundation team, is looking forward to the public meetings.
“These meetings are our best hope of delivering the message that the Quad Cities overwhelmingly supports the Bison Bridge, as do our friends in the Illinois General Assembly,” Hughes said in the release. “We are especially grateful to the members of the Illinois House of Representatives who have supported this once-in-a-lifetime project for the Quad Cities and the surrounding region.
“We anticipate an equally strong showing of support during IDOT’s public meetings,” he said.
Next steps as a team will be to “activate our significant network of supporters to participate in IDOT’s public meetings, which we now believe will be in May,” Hughes said later Tuesday. “The best opportunity we have to get IDOT’s consideration to include our proposal in their planning and engineering process currently underway is to have our supporters show up to that public meeting and express support for an alternative that includes an option to keep the old structure in place.
“We will also be looking for public endorsements in the coming weeks from leaders in the community who have indicated support for the project,” he added.
Retired IDOT engineer Kevin Marchek is versed in the NEPA process and has played a key role in the Bison Bridge team’s presentations to potential stakeholders and the general public.
He notes that the demolition of the existing bridge would be more costly to taxpayers than keeping the bridge and repurposing it. Further, Marchek says that “repurposing the bridge into the Bison Bridge will be entirely privately funded, resulting in no additional cost to local taxpayers. Private financing is the key to this project that will make it a reality.”
Pregracke is hopeful that the support shown by the Illinois House in passing HR0699 is indicative of the kind of bipartisan support the Bison Bridge inspires, the release said.
“We have gained significant public interest in our proposal to create something truly transformative and impactful,” Pregracke said. “Support for the Bison Bridge project spans both sides of the river and both sides of the aisle, making it a project that we can all get excited about.”