It was early afternoon this past Thursday when a giant crane lowered a nearly 35-foot column of reinforced steel into place just east of the Interstate-74 bridge.

All seven tons of it.

The stretch of interlocking steel bars is one of four pier stems that will make up a part of Pier 19 in downtown Bettendorf.

If you haven’t been by, construction of the new, long-awaited, I-74 bridge has begun in earnest. Crews are busy in downtown Bettendorf building the foundations for the span. And there’s no shortage of them to be built.

Pier 19 is just one of 15 sets of piers that will be built in downtown Bettendorf, stretching from just north of the Mississippi River to a point north of Mississippi Boulevard, where the new bridge will eventually join the existing roadway.

Another 15 sets of piers will be built in the Mississippi River. And in downtown Moline, another 10 sets will be built from the river to 7th Avenue.

Construction hasn’t begun yet on the Illinois-side piers. That will start later this fall. But in Bettendorf, the first foundation was poured a week and a half ago. Officials were so excited, the Twitter account for the project declared, “Ready, set GO! We’re laying the foundations for the #I74riverbridge piers.”

It's always nice to get that first footing poured, Danielle Mulholland, I-74 project manager for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said afterward.

It will take about three months to complete Pier 19, officials say. Construction on it began in mid-July.

Construction times on the other piers, most of which will have three columns, will vary.

The piers being built into the river will take longer to construct. Dredging is going on now for the first set of those piers, but it will be early next year before anything is visible above the water line, Mulholland said.

Overall, pier construction will go on throughout much of the three and a half years it takes to build the new I-74 bridge. But the piers, like Pier 19, for the Iowa-bound lane of the new bridge, will have to be done sooner. They're slated for completion in 2019, because that's when it will be open to traffic. The Illinois-bound lanes will take another year to open.

The seven tons of steel for each of the four columns making up Pier 19 will be accompanied by 34 tons of concrete for the footings and 42 tons for the column.

Officials say the piers, like the bridge itself, are being built to withstand the elements. A special coating, for example, gives the reinforced steel a green appearance. It is aimed at preventing erosion, Mulholland said.

When they're finished, the piers will also be markedly different in appearance from the ones supporting the existing span.

Project officials point out the piers are designed to fit into an aesthetic theme for the I-74 corridor aimed at conveying the bend in the river and that both sides are joined together.

Thus, the piers will give the appearance of two columns joining together to form a "Y" at its peak. On top of that will go a horizontal cap.

The curvature of the light poles that were installed as part of the new alignment of downtown Bettendorf streets reflect that theme, as do other parts of the corridor that were built earlier, like at Lincoln Road and 53rd Street, officials say.

Gena McCullough, planning director at the Bi-State Regional Commission, was a member of the committee that gave input to the designers of the corridor's aesthetic theme.

The idea at the time, she said, was to come up with a theme to tie together the corridor from Avenue of the Cities in Moline to 53rd Street in Davenport.

Civil Constructors, Inc., of Freeport, Illinois, is the primary contractor on the viaduct and off-ramps being built in Bettendorf. Lunda Construction, of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, is building the bridge over the Mississippi River. A third firm, Kraemer North America LLC, of Plain, Wisconsin, is the lead on the I-74 project running from the Mississippi River to 7th Avenue in downtown Moline.

In September, the Illinois Department of Transportation will award another contract for work through just south of Avenue of the Cities.

Construction on piers in Moline likely won’t begin until the fall, weather permitting, said Ryan Hippen, the Illinois DOT’s project manager. The main priorities in downtown Moline right now are reconstruction of the intersection at 7th Avenue and 19th Street and construction of an embankment from the river to River Drive to elevate the roadway as a transition point between the road and bridge.

The bridge, which is projected to be completed in 2021, will be more than twice as wide as the existing span, officials say. Its estimated cost is $1.2 billion.