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The upstream side of the Interstate 74 bridge looks like a crane orchard.

Nearly four years' worth of construction still is ahead for the new Bettendorf-Moline span over the Mississippi River, but progress is swift as the current. Those of us who cross it every day get a fleeting feel for the buzz below, and it changes weekly.

The surface of the river no longer looks like a fueling station in outer space. After just a few months, it all appears to belong: platforms and storage containers, drills and divers, cement trucks, portable toilets, and all those cranes.

Piers are being built in the water and on land, and those in-the-know with the Iowa Department of Transportation, DOT, say we're right on schedule.

"We're a little better than on schedule for the Bettendorf shore," said Danielle Mulholland, I-74 project manager for the Iowa DOT. "It's good to get ahead, anticipating the chances of getting a real Iowa winter."

For now, mellow temps are politely providing the conditions contractors need for pouring tons of concrete.

"This is very good — very good weather, going into December," Mulholland said. "Weather is an important consideration for our concrete specifications."

In Moline, contractors met their deadline last week for piling fill (from the McCausland Quarry) to the necessary height on the shoreline to accommodate construction there. And, in Bettendorf, steel is being set on piers to serve as molds for the pier caps that soon will be poured.

Work being done on the two riverfronts is much easier to detect than what is happening on, in and under the water. But Mulholland assures things are moving right along there, too.

"It's exciting: They started to build coffer dams for some of the arch foundations," she said, referring to the largest of the bridge piers, which will cross the navigation channel. "They're drilling shafts (into the river floor) for piers.

"That's a big step to hopefully start seeing things come out of the water."

Those of us who have gone in for a close-as-possible look or who have studied photos from the construction site notice a structure jutting out from the Bettendorf shore that looks like a small foot bridge. But Mulholland said the pathway is not for people; it's for concrete.

The structure — called a slickline — will support a pipe, which will deliver concrete to the piers in the water. But that's only for as long as the weather holds.

If the Mississippi freezes solid this winter, it could limit contractors' access. But they are counting on working throughout the winter. When the channel closes to commercial and recreational navigation for the season, the workers will continue to use it, Mulholland said.

Beginning early next year, another major part of the whole bridge project gets going with the $83.7 million expansion of the intestate south of the bridge. From 7th Avenue in Moline to an area about a mile south of Avenue of the Cities, 74 will be expanded from four lanes to six.

With so much happening simultaneously, lots of people are keeping track, Mulholland said.

"We've got a team that handles construction, engineering and inspections and another consulting engineering firm to help the regular DOT staff with the corridor and its inspection," she said. "We're still early in the process, but I'm sure we'll have surprises."

Being on schedule is a nice one.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com

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