Should the new I-74 bridge have a new name?

Local News

The new $1.2-billion I-74 bridge connecting Moline and Bettendorf will feature a new park and a pedestrian elevator to the bridge (left) on the Bettendorf side.

Should the new I-74 bridge have a snazzier, catchier name, its own personality and social media accounts?

Dave Herrell, president and CEO of Visit Quad Cities, certainly does. Following the example of Omaha, Neb. (perhaps previously best known as home of billionaire and philanthropist Warren Buffett), he wants to discuss potential names for the iconic $1.2-billion, white-arched twin spans nearing completion.

Before the pandemic, Visit Quad Cities worked with the consulting firm Resonance on a tourism master plan, and after a day of touring the area, one representative asked, “What are you guys doing with your bridge? What’s the plan?”

Herrell said that both Bettendorf and Moline are reimagining their downtowns next to the new bridge. Resonance knew that, but wanted to know if they were going to give the bridge a name.

Like San Francisco’s world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, they recommended thinking of a brand for the new bridge, a global identity.

Dave Herrell is president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities

“It’s this asset that’s connecting Illinois and Iowa,” Herrell recalled them saying. “It’s leveraging the Mississippi River. You want it to permeate the culture in your community, where people talk about it. It’s not really sexy. I said, OK, and we talked about it. As they were crafting the recommendations for the tourism master plan, they listed that as one of the 92 things, they felt we should come together and we should have a conversation on renaming the bridge.”

Omaha’s pedestrian bridge, known as Bob, has a strong personality.

“Bob has a story and they have Omar the troll, who lives under the bridge,” Herrell said. “He’s public art. Kids take pictures with him. So bridges are intended to be destinations, and the fact that we’re gonna have the ability to walk across the bridge; ride a bike across the bridge; gather and engage on both sides of the river – why wouldn’t we think of the global brand identity of one of the most iconic things in our community?”

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – which connects Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, over the Missouri River – opened in 2008. It’s named in honor of the 78-year-old former Nebraska Governor and U.S. Senator, who’s also a decorated Vietnam War vet.

Bob is one of the longest pedestrian bridges ever built — 3,000 feet in length, and the towers carry a unique curved 506-foot main span and two 253-foot back spans. The $22-million project was largely funded by a $17-million federal transportation grant secured by Senator Bob Kerrey in 2000.

Is “Bob” magic?

“Technically I’m a 3,000 ft. pedestrian bridge, but actually I’m a 3,000 ft. magic trick – suspended in air by mere cables (and two really tall towers and a whole lotta something going on under the water), but other than that it’s all magic,” Bob “says” on bobthebridge.com.

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha, affectionately known and marketed as Bob.

“For my next trick, since I’m the first walking bridge to connect two states, if you stand in just the right spot “POOF” you’re in two places at the same time. Take a photo and now you’re “Bobbing”…trust me, it’s a thing,” the site says.

“Like most bridges, I have a troll. At first, it was weird, but OMAR has become my true, blue friend. So get to know me (and OMAR) a little better. Check out my Vlog – I like to share visually. Learn all about me in the What About Bob section (read it now, before it becomes a major motion picture). Under Walk on Bob you’ll find out how to find me, and a list of places to get some grub that aren’t too far from me…I’m thoughtful like that. You can always chat with me on Twitter and Instagram!

Jasmyn Goodwin, the interim VP of marketing and communications for Visit Omaha, said Tuesday that in 2015, her team wanted to make “Bob” a true attraction and developed a complete campaign to personify him. “We brought him to life with a video blog, Twitter page, YouTube channel, and Instagram page,” she said.

“Other campaigns followed — including Bobbing (standing on the state line while taking a selfie), the 0.9k mini-marathon, #BobWalking, and even OMAR the Troll (an actual bronze sculpture living under Bob),” Goodwin said by e-mail. “Independent research by Young Strategies, Inc. shows that the bridge is now one of the most popular destinations among overnight visitors to Omaha. More than 100,000 people visit each year.

Omar the troll sculpture was installed in 2019, and later had a children’s book written about him – “OMAR finds a home.” It’s a colorful keepsake to remember the time spent with your new (and blue) friend. There’s even a special place in the book to put photos of your Omaha visit, making it the ultimate souvenir.

Omar (a bronze troll sculpture) lives under Bob the bridge in Omaha.

“Bob gave us another platform to push out our message and promote Omaha’s tourism assets,” Goodwin of Visit Omaha said. “The biggest benefit of Bob being ‘awake’ is the opportunities he creates to connect and engage with out of town visitors. We are connecting with them online and using signage on Bob to drive them to the visitors center.”

How to build buzz and draw more visitors

Herrell thinks the QC should go down a similar road, with a buzzy name for its new landmark.

“We’re a big believer that is something we want to advocate for at the right time,” he said. “Have a substantive discussion and a process. Maybe the community weighs in, with a list of names and people submit ideas. Get people in conversation – why can’t we do this?”

The branding helps build a coolness factor, to get residents to brag about their community, Herrell said. “Everybody loved it,” he said of the “Bob” bridge. “They created a children’s book. How are we using our landmarks and our icons?”

A first step in the 74 bridge naming process would be working with Iowa and Illinois’ transportation departments, and the cities of Bettendorf and Moline, he said.

The keystone of the new I-74 bridge arch is put in place on May 6, 2020 (photo: Bryan Bobb, OurQuadCities.com)
The keystone of the new I-74 bridge arch is put in place on May 6, 2020. (Bryan Bobb, OurQuadCities.com)

The naming would open many opportunities to educate people about the bridge, the river and the area, Herrell said. “You can have an immersive experience with this asset that we’ve spent $1.2 billion on, that literally is the unifier for our community. I think it’s got serious legs.”

“We are known the world over for the Mississippi River, so from a marketing perspective – how do we in a meaningful way put some motion and some muscle into the punch, to try and elevate that identity even more?” he said. “Why can’t you have fun? A bridge can be fun.”

“Don’t we want people to be really proud and prideful of the things that are here?” Herrell asked.

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher said Tuesday the city has taken this trip before with the Iowa DOT, to no avail.

“I’m not opposed to the discussion about naming the bridge. However, you should know we have already been down this road with the DOT’s. Since this is an interstate bridge, it is not ours to name,” he said. “I’m not advocating stopping here.”

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher speaks Friday, Oct. 15 at Jetty Park, Bettendorf, with several QC mayors behind him, about a new effort to combat plastic pollution in the river (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It is my understanding that the team asked them about naming the bridge during discussions sometime long ago,” Gallagher said. “Since we don’t own the bridge, it seemed like we got no traction.”

Of course, he said he’s also partial to naming the new bridge “Bob.”

“The I-74 bridge is fundamentally changing the QC region,” said Ryan Jantzi, executive director of the Downtown Bettendorf Organization. “It is an iconic bridge that deserves recognition.

“Looking back 5 years ago, the I-74 bridge hindered economic development, especially in downtown Bettendorf. Nobody wanted to open a business with the potential of construction out your front door for the next 3, 5, or 10 years,” he added. “Now the bridge is fostering economic development. It is placemaking and deserves to have an iconic name.”

Names of other Q-C bridges

The name of the first I-74 bridge that connects Moline and Bettendorf was the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge, dedicated to area soldiers of World War I, a single two-lane span that opened in 1935. An identical southbound (Iowa to Illinois) span opened in 1960.

Interstate 74 bridge_-3349448159526436791
The twin spans of the old I-74 bridge opened 25 years apart, in 1935 and 1960.

On July 31, 2010, the Interstate 280 bridge connecting Rock Island and Davenport was dedicated and renamed the Baker Bridge in honor of Medal of Honor recipient John F. Baker Jr. (1945-2012) a Davenport native and Vietnam War veteran.

Many recipients of the nation’s highest military honor have roadways, streets and buildings named after them. But, as of the date of this dedication, Baker was the only Medal of Honor recipient to have a bridge named after him.

The I-280 Bridge, named for Medal of Honor recipient John F. Baker, Jr.

On July 17, 2017, officials from Illinois State Police (ISP), elected officials, local leaders and the Talbot family gathered to honor fallen ISP Master Sergeant Stanley W. Talbot by dedicating the Centennial Bridge in Rock Island, the Master Sergeant Stanley Talbot Memorial Bridge.

On June 23, 2001, at 1:38 a.m., Master Sgt. Talbot, age 50, was killed in the line of duty when he was involved in a hit-and-run traffic crash while supervising a roadside safety check at the foot of the Centennial Bridge, in Rock Island.

Centennial Bridge_9055827082711617483
The Centennial Bridge was originally opened in 1940, named for the 100th anniversary of the city of Rock Island.

That bridge first opened in 1940, and was originally going to be named the Galbraith Bridge, after Rock Island’s mayor at the time, Robert Galbraith. He suggested it be named the Centennial Bridge, in commemoration of the city of Rock Island’s centennial.

One more new Q-C bridge project has a catchy name and is seeking support – the Bison Bridge, proposed by Living Lands & Waters founder Chad Pregracke. He has raised millions of dollars in a private effort to acquire and repurpose the I-80 Bridge between LeClaire and Rapids City, to become the Bison Bridge.

“His plan to preserve an interstate bridge in LeClaire, Iowa will help reintroduce native American bison back to the Midwest and has the potential to become the world’s longest man-made wildlife crossing for pedestrians and bison,” Mike Wolfe of “American Pickers” posted last month on Facebook.

The planned Bison Bridge would repurpose the existing I-80 bridge as a managed wildlife crossing for bison on one side and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge on the other.

“This project has the potential to bring the Quad Cities to the next level – even acquire National Park status. The Bison Bridge Foundation is looking for 50,000 signatures to gain support and propel the project forward.”

The 55-year-old, four-lane Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge may face demolition, as the Illinois Department of Transportation is studying ways to replace the bridge. Schwengel (1906-1993) was an eight-term Republican Congressman from southeast Iowa, who represented the QC.

Bison Bridge plans to have the current westbound lanes as a forested, vegetation-filled bison refuge – the largest wildlife crossing in the world — and the other side as a pedestrian-bike crossing, with many amenities.

To learn more, visit bisonbridge.org. For more information on the new I-74 bridge, visit www.i74riverbridge.com/.

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