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Toll booths on I-74 bridge
Toll booths on the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge (later the Interstate 74 bridge). The toll booth was closed at noon on Dec. 31, 1969. (TIMES FILE PHOTO

An idea from U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk to charge a toll for motorists crossing the Interstate 74 bridge is being discussed by Moline leaders as a possible funding source.

Renew Moline's Project Management Team agreed Wednesday that the suggestion should at least be considered because it could be several years before the federal government funds a replacement for the existing bridge.

Members of the team, among them aldermen and representatives of the private sector, asked that bridge traffic counts be reviewed to determine how much a toll would have to be in order to partially or fully fund the replacement, which is expected to cost $1 billion, chairman Tom Getz said.

"It could be done, and rather than just ignore it, we thought we would discuss it," Getz said.

Although the idea can be discussed at the local level, it's ultimately up to federal officials to decide whether to implement a toll, Denise Bulat, executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission, said. She and Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn also said the idea of a toll for the bridge was considered in 1998 and deemed not viable.

Getz and Renew Moline Executive Director Jim Bowman said Kirk, R-Ill., pitched the idea to city leaders during a meeting a few months ago in which the senator said federal funding might not be available for a long time.

"Senator Kirk supports efforts to give communities the tools they need to invest in job-creating infrastructure, including modernizing the I-74 bridge," a statement released late Wednesday afternoon by Kirk spokesman Lance Trover said. "If a community identifies a viable funding stream when other options are not feasible, the federal government should get out of the way and let them move forward."

Members of the team acknowledged that the idea likely won't be popular with motorists but it is one option to fund the aging bridge with local revenue.

"Having a toll bridge would be better than having no bridge at all," Getz said.

Moline City Planner Jeff Anderson told the team a toll could be an economic detriment that would negatively affect local industry, but he acknowledged that providing more funding options for the bridge could improve the project's chances of receiving federal funds.

Bowman and Getz stressed that the team isn't supporting the idea but is asking that it be considered. The idea likely will go to the city council and Renew Moline Board within the next month for further discussion, Bowman said, adding there also will be discussions with Bettendorf and Bi-State.

Members of the Project Management Team raised several questions about whether a toll on an interstate bridge would be possible, but they acknowledged that it has been done elsewhere and that traffic congestion could be limited with a prepaid toll collection system such as I-PASS.

The bridge did have a toll until Dec. 31, 1969, when it became the property of the states of Illinois and Iowa. The twin spans were built in 1935 and 1960 and became part of I-74 when the tolls were removed. The Iowa portion of I-74 was finished a short time later.

Ploehn and Bulat, who were not at the meeting and learned of the discussion afterward, said the idea could be looked at again but probably still is not viable. Both stressed that local funding is not required for replacement of the bridge.

Bulat said a federal major investment study in 1998 looked at all possible options for replacing the bridge, including a tunnel. A toll was considered for funding.

Not only did the study show that a toll wasn't viable, it also recommended removing the Centennial Bridge toll, which was done in 2004. Bulat said the study revealed that bridge tolls suppress traffic flow by diverting motorists away from the most direct path.

"Nothing has changed in the Quad-Cities," she said. "There are still five bridges, and placing tolls on one will artificially suppress traffic flow."

Bulat said there is optimism that federal and state funding will come through and the bridge can be replaced by 2015 or 2016 when the Illinois and Iowa departments of transportation will be ready to commit to the work.

She said there is an emphasis at the federal level on repairing the nation's interstate system and projects such as I-74, which are ready to go, are most likely to receive funding. She said the new bridge will be designed to last 75 to 100 years.

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