The Bison Bridge project team feels encouraged after the Illinois and Iowa Departments of Transportation held their joint public meeting Wednesday.

Chad Pregracke, founder and president of Living Lands & Waters and the leader of the Bison Bridge team, was thrilled with the meeting, he said in a news release.

“The Bison Bridge team thought the I-80 Mississippi River Bridge meeting was very encouraging and that the DOTs as well as Parsons conducted the meeting well,” said Pregracke. “We are encouraged that the plans discussed had the consideration to keep the existing structure for the use of a pedestrian and wildlife crossing as a possibility.”

(Founded in 1944, Parsons Corporation, a digitally enabled solutions provider, is focused on creating the future of the defense, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets.) 

The public meeting, held as a virtual webinar, included representatives from the Iowa and Illinois Departments of Transportation and from Parsons. The purpose of the meeting was to define the purpose and need for the new river crossing, to present the proposed alternatives for the new bridge as part of the Planning and Environment Linkages study that commenced in April of 2020, and to receive feedback from the public on the project.

As a retired Illinois Department of Transportation engineer with more than 30 years of experience pertaining to the NEPA process and public meetings, Kevin Marchek has been prepping his colleagues on the Bison Bridge team for this moment, the release says.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process begins when a federal agency develops a proposal to take a major federal action.

“We knew going into the meeting that the DOTs would be focused on carrying out the NEPA process, as required by law,” Marchek said. “We knew that the priority at the DOTs would be to consider the new bridge alignment as the primary concern for the public meeting. They are tasked with building a transportation facility, and we will await their review process to understand whether we will be able to proceed with a discussion about the Bison Bridge when the time is right.”

“The Bison Bridge team thought the I-80 Mississippi River Bridge meeting was very encouraging and that the DOTs as well as Parsons conducted the meeting well,” said Pregracke. “We are encouraged that the plans discussed had the consideration to keep the existing structure for the use of a pedestrian and wildlife crossing as a possibility.”

While the panelists provided seven alternatives for the new crossing, not all of them would allow for the repurposing of the existing bridge. The team is explicitly not advocating for any of the alternatives at this time, the release says.

Matt Hughes, a transportation consultant for the State of Illinois and a member of the Bison Bridge team, said, “We won’t take any position on a particular alternative. Our intent is to support the DOTs and the NEPA process as it must be undertaken. That said, we will of course be reviewing the alternatives and having our engineers analyze and advise us.” Hughes was pleased with the meeting and congratulated the team on their efforts thus far.

Absent from any of the alternatives presented was a pedestrian and/or cycling lane, a fact that did not go unnoticed during the question-and-answer period, the release says. With existing paths on both sides of the river, outdoor enthusiasts had been hoping for a pedestrian crossing at I-80.

The Bison Bridge team is hopeful that this will further encourage support of the Bison Bridge project, which would provide a park-like setting atop the bridge for pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchair access across the river, the release says.

The timeline provided in the meeting puts the finalization of the NEPA process in late 2023, when the Federal Highway Administration must provide the final seal of approval for the project. The DOTs and Parsons will narrow the proposed alternatives and conduct further study, to be presented at another public meeting which will likely be held later this year. All of the materials from the meeting are now available online at the dedicated site for the project here.

The Bison Bridge team now will focus on generating support through the public comment period, which will remain open indefinitely, with any comments before May 25 included in public record.

“We still need your comments and questions, and we still need your support,” said Pregracke. “If you want to see the Bison Bridge happen in the Quad Cities, if you want to see a point of national interest developed here in our home, then let the DOTs know in the comments. We still have the momentum to make this dream real.”

You can submit comments online here.