Quad-City bridge traffic headaches could soon turn into migraines.
With the Centennial Bridge not scheduled to reopen until Sept. 6 because of repairs, the Government Bridge has experienced added traffic this week.
And now the historic bridge will get even more backed up in the coming days as dozens of towboats with barges are on the move after about three weeks of being stuck up north because of dredging.
That will spike barge traffic at Lock and Dam 15, Rock Island. And because river traffic has the right-of-way, the swing span will be working overtime.
"We will have (tows) coming one after the other," said Ron Fournier, chief of corporate communications for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Rock Island Arsenal. "We will have the span opening and closing and will have people stuck in their cars.
"Typically, tows have the priority. But sometimes when tows show up, our bridge operators will radio the tow and ask them if they want to wait during high-traffic times. The tow captain has the right to say 'No, I want to go.' You cannot legally keep the bridge open to auto traffic when tows need to lock through."
The problem has been tons of silt and sand deposits upriver in Minnesota. Barges have been impeded for weeks by large sediment deposits left behind by flooding from heavy spring and summer rainfall, said Steve Tapp, operations manager for channels and harbors for the Corps in Minnesota.
"We are monitoring several other areas that are in poor condition," he said. "There is potential to close off other areas because of silt. It is very unusual. I have been doing this for 25 years and have never seen anything like it."
Patrick Moes, spokesman for the Corps in Minnesota, said two emergency dredging projects were completed Thursday.
In the next couple of days, the steady stream of tows and barges should pass through Lock and Dam 15, in addition to normal traffic, Fournier said.
"And how long each lockdown takes depends. Some crews are very fast," he said. "The swing span may be open five minutes. But if it is a double barge, when they finish locking the second part through, you can be sitting there for 20 to 30 minutes.
"And the extra traffic these days from the Centennial closing is extreme. It can get pretty intense. There is quite a bit more."
In addition to hundreds of barges eventually heading south, Fournier said Friday afternoon there were 82 tow configurations from St. Louis heading north.
Gena McCullough, planning director for the Bi-State Regional Planning Commission, said she has been part of the planning on how to deal with the Centennial closing.
"From a local perspective, one of the alternatives to the Centennial Bridge is the Government Bridge, although the official detour is the Interstate 280 bridge," she said. "I am not sure how many tows they can lock through in a day, but I know they can lock through 24/7 and some of that can be off-peak hours."
She and Fournier recommend using other bridges, including Interstates 74 and 80.
The Illinois Department of Transportation reports, however, that a lane closure will take place 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday on westbound I-80 traffic. Also, an eastbound driving lane will be closed the same hours Thursday for light inspections and repairs.