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Q-C bridges span history, Mississippi


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Bridges bring the Quad-Cities together. In 1896, the Government Bridge was built across the tip of Arsenal Island. Its 366-foot swingspan is the largest of its kind ever built, rotating 360 degrees to accommodate river traffic.

We take them for granted. But we take them, and with greater frequency with every passing year.

The five automobile bridges that span the Mississippi River in the Quad-Cities area carried an average of 144,200 vehicles each weekday in 1997, up from 103,700 in 1986.

Bi-State Regional Commission expects use of the bridges to skyrocket to 250,000 daily vehicles in 2020, and that's why it's been planning for years to find a way to add to an existing bridge or build a new one.

Either scenario would take 12 to 15 years to complete, with a new bridge costing up to $100 million, according to Bi-State.

The Interstate 280 and 80 bridges are on the edges of the area and have not been the subject of as intense scrutiny as the inner three -- the Centennial, Government and Interstate 74 bridges. But in 1997, the I-280 and I-80 bridges each had more than 20,000 daily vehicles, more than the Centennial and Government.

With nearly 70,000 vehicles daily, I-74 sees the most traffic by far.

The first two-lane Moline-to-Bettendorf bridge, then called the Memorial Bridge, opened in 1935, and today this bridge carries southbound I-74 traffic. Because of demand on that bridge, an identical span was completed in 1959, which now carries northbound traffic. The twin spans were upgraded to carry Interstate traffic in the mid-1970s.

Construction on the Centennial Bridge -- the only toll bridge remaining in the Quad-Cities -- started in 1938. The final cost, $2.5 million, pales in comparison to the $11.4 million price tag for the 1996-97 renovation of the four-lane span.

The bridge was supposed to be named the Galbraith Bridge, after the Rock Island mayor who championed the project, but Mayor Robert Galbraith suggested it instead be named to honor the centennial of Rock Island's founding.

The toll, to help pay for construction and maintenance, was originally 10 cents. It was raised to 15 cents in 1979, 25 in 1981, and the current 50 cents in 1991. The curving span was lit in the late 1980s after a Quad-Citieswide fundraising effort called Lights! River! Action!

In 1896, the current Government Bridge was built across the tip of Arsenal Island, with two railroad tracks on top and two lanes for vehicular traffic below.

Its swingspan of 366 feet is the largest of its kind ever built, rotating 360 degrees to accommodate river traffic.

Last year the Rock Island Arsenal filed requests to start charging a toll on the bridge, which would not apply to people going in and out of the Arsenal. Of the vehicles crossing the bridge, only 35 percent are headed onto the island.

Annual bridge operation and repairs cost about $800,000, and the structure needs about $14 million in repairs and painting, according to the Arsenal.

-- By Jonathan Turner (February 9, 1998)

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