Last bridge nearly 30 years old
By Rita Pearson, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer
New crossing being studied, but realization would span decades
The last Mississippi River bridge to be built in the Quad-Cities area was the Interstate 280 span, connecting southwest Rock Island with Iowa.
Construction began in April 1970 and took nearly three years to complete.
The nearly $16 million bridge was opened to traffic on Oct. 25, 1973, and had its first traffic jam about an hour later.
A month after its opening, the new bridge had reduced traffic on Rock Island's Centennial Bridge by 10 percent.
Planning for the blue and gold I-280 bridge began more than 15 years prior to construction when the interstate highway system was developed to service the Quad-Cities area.
Transportation officials in Illinois and Iowa signed an agreement in February 1958 calling for construction of the Interstate 80 bridge at LeClaire, Iowa, and the I-280 bridge south of Rock Island.
The opening of the bridge at LeClaire in 1966 linked Interstate 80 across the nation, allowing a super-highway trip from New York to Des Moines without a motorist traveling through a stoplight.
The federal government financed the majority of the two interstate bridges under provisions of the interstate highway program. Illinois an Iowa shared the remaining 10 percent of the cost of the two bridges.
Added to the Arsenal and Centennial bridges from Rock Island to Davenport and the I-74 bridge from Moline to Bettendorf, that's five bridges in a century. The current debate on how to relieve traffic congestion for a community dependent upon its bridges rages on.
In the fall of 1998, a bi-state group of local government, Rock Island Arsenal and state and local transportation representatives approved a resolution to eliminate tolls on the Centennial Bridge, expand the I-74 bridge and build a new bridge connecting East Moline and Bettendorf.
The three-pronged approach combines the best short- and long-term solutions to relieving traffic problems and plan for future development in the Quad-Cities, the planners said.
The state of Illinois has determined the Centennial Bridge will be obsolete in 20 to 25 years. Rock Island has said it will no longer maintain it after its useful life.
Rock Island Arsenal officials are concerned about the nearly $1 million a year in maintenance costs for the century old Arsenal bridge. However, plans for a new Arsenal bridge corridor identified in a 1978 study dissipated in 1985 under Project REARM and a new Naval Reserve building planned in 1986.
Expanding the I-74 bridge may make it eligible for federal interstate funds.
Currently, about 144,200 vehicles cross the five Mississippi River bridges daily in the Quad-Cities, based on a department of transportation traffic study in 1994-96.
Planners expect daily traffic to increase to 206,000 vehicles crossing six bridges in the year 2020. About 63,800 of those vehicles daily would cross the I-74 bridge, the heaviest used bridge, and 21,900 would cross a new East Moline-Bettendorf crossing.
The options could cost up to $250 million and take up to 20 to 25 years to complete. The Quad-Cities' local share could be about $50 million, according to Gary Vallem, executive director of the Bi-States Planning Commission.
One way to pay for the local share of the projected costs could come from a quarter-cent sales tax collected in Scott and Rock Island counties. State and federal assistance -- once so plentiful in the '60s when the last two bridges were planned and built -- is not expected to be so available.
In his appearance in the Quad-Cities last fall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater suggested Quad-Cities leaders should develop creative ways to fund new bridges and transportation facilities. State and local money and special grants also should be considered, he said.
A new bridge in the nine-mile stretch between the existing I-74 and I-80 bridges would fill an unserved area, East Moline Mayor Bill Ward and local transportation officials say. Additional transportation studies have identified the area as the fastest growing portion of the metropolitan area.
Two tentative sites connecting East Moline with Bettendorf via Campbells Island are under consideration. One bridge alignment passes through the center of Campbells Island, connecting a future four-lane extension of Tanglefoot Lane on the Iowa side to Illinois 84.
The second crosses the forested wetland at the northeastern tip of Campbells Island and bisects the Hampton Park/Empire Park complex between Ill. 84 and the Mississsippi River.
Improvements to Ill. 84 would be needed between the bridge and 13th Street in East Moline under either alignment.
About 13 to 18 acres of wetlands would be impacted with construction of a new Bettendorf-East Moline crossing, while up to two acres would be disturbed with the I-74 expansion.
This stretch of Mississippi River has the potential of encountering the threatened and endangered Higgins eye freshwater mussel, although the exact bed locations are not known. There also would be a substantial loss of wildlife habitat near Crow Creek, between U.S. 67 and the Mississippi and on Campbells Island and southeast of Ill. 84.
Based on a preliminary analysis of state and federal resource agencies, the proposed crossing site contains no fatal flaws that would prevent it from being built in the designated area. However, certain environmental issues would have to be mitigated.
Additional environmental and engineering studies will have to be done before a bridge is designed.