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I-280 bridge gets the blues; so long yellow
John Schultz/QUAD-CITY TIMES Painting on the I-280 Mississippi River bridge continues, but it will lose the yellow to become an all-blue bridge.

This time, no one asked.

When the Interstate 280 bridge was being built 35 years ago, Quad-Citians were asked to pick the colors for the Rock Island-Davenport span. In a public opinion survey that included mail-in ballots in the former Times-Democrat, blue and yellow won by a landslide.

And now the yellow is almost gone.


Take a look at a page from 1972 when Quad-Citians had the opportunity to choose.

In a couple of weeks, the new paint job on the I-280 bridge should be finished, and the bridge will be entirely blue. The reason: Officials at the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT, could not find any evidence that Quad-Citians ever chose the color combination.

“We looked into it briefly this spring,” said John Wegmeyer, district implementation engineer for IDOT. “At that point, we couldn’t find any background to it.”

Newspaper stories from 1972, maintained in the Times library, show that Quad-Citians were given a choice that year between four bridge colors — interstate blue, interstate green, international airways orange, and the blue-and-yellow combination.

Of the 8,300 votes cast, 3,446 wanted blue and yellow. And so it was.

In 1972, Illinois Transportation Secretary William F. Cellini explained it this way:  “It is our feeling that because of the local interest displayed in the existing structure and the unique bridge designs being utilized in this area, the residents should be involved in the color selection.”

It was, in fact, officials from IDOT who suggested turning the color decision over to Quad-Citians.

About five years ago, when the bridges over the Rock River on U.S. 67 in Milan, Ill., were being repainted, someone asked that they be painted red, white and blue, Wegmeyer said.

“We did a sort of informal poll, and the consensus was to just paint it blue,” he said. “This time we didn’t even do that.”

The new coat of paint being applied to the I-280 bridge is the first repainting of the span since the first application in the spring of 1973. Workers have spent several months painting and sandblasting the underside of the bridge, which collects salt that falls through the decking.

As painters have made their way in recent weeks to the once-golden arch, motorists have begun to notice the change.

Wegmeyer said he knows of no other major span in the state that is multicolored.

“We use four colors of paint that is specific to bridges,” he said. “We use blue, green, dark gray and light gray. Any other tint costs more.”

 Barb Ickes can be contacted at (563) 383-2316 or Comment on this story at


Painters will use 2,800 gallons of blue paint to cover the 4,193-foot span.

Planning for the bridge began in 1953, and it was finished in 1973.

The bridge cost $15.7 million.

About 200 people attended the dedication, which was held in the center of the span, and schoolchildren launched hundreds of helium-filled balloons to celebrate.

The distance from the top of the arch to the water is 182 feet.

The shape of the arch is parabolic.

Two men fell to their deaths during the building and painting of the bridge. Two others were injured when they fell and landed on barges that were moored in the Mississippi River below.

How the Q-C voted

Total votes cast 8,300

Blue/yellow combination 3,446

Interstate blue 2,562

International airways orange 1,253

Interstate green 1,039

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