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A sneak peek at the Quad-Cities' new I-74 bridge

A sneak peek at the Quad-Cities' new I-74 bridge

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The size is most striking.

At 72 feet wide, the new Iowa-bound span of the Interstate 74 bridge would hold both of the existing spans with room to spare.

The newness of the deck, arch and design are striking too — perhaps most dramatically when veering back to cross into Illinois on the old bridge.

The days of absent shoulders and white-knuckle narrowness, rusty steel and crumbling concrete curbing soon will be a memory.

For the tens of thousands of Quad-Citians' whose commute takes them across the Mississippi River between Moline and Bettendorf, the transition will be akin to going from a lumpy twin bed to a custom-made California King.

"It's definitely an exciting time for the Quad-Cities," said George Ryan, Interstate 74 corridor manager. "It's an iconic structure, no doubt about it."

By the pre-dawn hours of last Friday morning, the first of the new twin spans were open for business.

A group of about a dozen local journalists and Chamber and Bi-State Regional Authority members were invited last Wednesday morning for a walking tour of the westbound span.

Among the gawkers was Bi-State's Denise Bulat, who said she has been working on a replacement for the too-small crossings since 1994.

"Meeting and talking about the new design feels like decades ago," Ryan said to Bulat as the pair gazed overhead at the sweeping signature arches.

After years of watching construction from the Bettendorf bike path along the riverfront far below, the change in perspective brought size into focus. Workers climbed in and out of the arch's person-sized portholes as they applied finishing touches to the lighting system inside and gave up-close proof of the vastness of the arch's interior.

"It's just a great day in the Quad-Cities," Ryan declared. "Motorists will have it better in the Quad-Cities than they've had it in years. It'll be a lot safer than it's ever been in the Quad-Cities."

In the coming weeks, the Iowa-bound span will accommodate two-way traffic. Workers placed barricades down the center of the span Wednesday, so Illinois-bound traffic also can use the new crossing when workers are ready to make the shift.

The existing bridge will remain in use for local traffic, basically a way to ferry motorists between the Moline and Bettendorf downtowns. The new Illinois-bound bridge is expected to be ready for traffic by this time next year, and then demolition plans will be set in motion for both old spans.

A year behind schedule, the $1.2 billion project, which includes the expanded interstate, remains on budget, Ryan said.

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