A lot of attention has been paid to the work going on to build the new Interstate-74 bridge, but another important piece of the $1.2 billion corridor project is now just getting underway.
Construction workers have begun laying the groundwork for widening I-74 to three lanes in each direction between 7th Avenue in Moline and a mile south of Avenue of the Cities.
The widening of that 2-mile stretch of I-74 isn't scheduled to be completed until 2020, but this summer, crews will be working to widen the roadway in a half-to-three-quarter mile section south of Avenue of the Cities.
The work will involve some lane closures, officials say, but in the end, this project is an integral part of preparing one of the Quad-Cities most important traffic arteries for the new bridge.
Once the new, wider, I-74 bridge is fully opened, traffic will need the additional lanes to safely move off the bridge onto the mainline highway further into Moline.
"You definitely want to allow enough time for cars to assimilate" said Denise Bulat, executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission, the Quad-City regional planning organization.
Chicago-based Walsh Construction won the $83.7 million contract for the widening project last October. The job also includes reconstruction of ramps to Avenue of the Cities and to 7th Avenue, rebuilding 19th Street, construction of retaining walls and bridges over 12th Avenue, lighting and drainage improvements.
Ryan Hippen, field engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, said much of the expansion will be in the interior of the existing roadway. But there also will be pavement added to the outer part in places.
"It's a combination of both," he said.
Since last week, crews have been removing trees and doing other preparatory work.
This month, Hippen said, crews will widen existing shoulders, as well as the roadway in spots, pushing traffic temporarily further away from the center so permanent widening can be done. "The work will be going on the entire construction season," Hippen said.
A finish date for this first phase is in November.
The added lanes are likely to see more traffic in the future.
Currently, about 77,000 vehicles travel daily along I-74 at 7th Avenue. That tapers to roughly 51,000 when I-74 gets to Avenue of the Cities.
However, a new bridge and improved corridor will probably draw traffic that currently is going elsewhere because of the corridor's challenges, officials say.
The area's long-range transportation plan predicts the I-74 bridge will get average daily traffic of nearly 100,000 vehicles by 2045, up from the 70,000 to 75,000 currently. Bulat said it's not clear when that higher number might be reached. But a wider, more easily traveled bridge will help.
With its narrow to non-existent shoulders and short approaches, the span has long been considered by area planners to be obsolete.
The I-74 project team announced the beginning of the widening project earlier this week along with other related road closures.
Beginning Monday, weather permitting, 5th Avenue in Moline will be closed permanently between I-74 and 21st Street. The closure is to accommodate the reconstruction and realignment of the bridge.
In addition, beginning next week, 19th Street will be reduced to one lane in both directions between 7th and 12th avenues for utility work, which is scheduled to be completed in May.
The reconstruction of 19th Street is expected to be completed in November.