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021119-qct-qca-ickes

The staging of steel for the new Interstate 74 bridge on the eastern end of Moline's Ben Butterworth Parkway is resulting in the closure of the two park pavilions located nearby.

At issue in Moline: Should the city's help be free?

The primary contractor for the new Interstate 74 bridge, Lunda Construction, is asking to use more city land.

In December, Lunda got permission from the Moline Park Board to store bridge-related steel on the eastern-most parking lot of the Ben Butterworth Parkway. The property loan is inconvenient to the public in a couple of ways.

The city's only boat-ramp access to the Mississippi River is at that lot, and it won't be accessible until at least August. In the event of a river rescue, the Moline Fire Department will use the old boat ramp west of 34th Street, which has been blocked off for years and must be reopened. Small, private vessels will have access to it, too, but there's little space for trailers, and the ramp cannot accommodate larger boats.

Also, the city park downstream of the Lunda-reserved parking lot contains a playground, restroom, two pavilions and a section of bike path. It is a popular place to be in agreeable weather, but the only way to get there will be on foot or by bike.

Under the Park Board agreement, the pavilions will be closed through August, which means lost revenue from about four months of pavilion rent. But Lunda already has agreed to make up for those losses.

"Without parking, you can't rent pavilions," Parks Director Lori Wilson said. "We can do a pretty good (revenue) estimate, and I want to say they (Lunda) are paying about $1,000 a month.

"They have told us, obviously, anything misplaced during that time would be replaced."

The city's verbal agreement with Lunda now is heading toward a more potentially disruptive deal, which aldermen smartly caution will require a written contract and, possibly, greater financial compensation.

In contracts like the one in place to build the bridge, hundreds of millions of dollars are in play. The contractor has the potential to suffer big losses if the project isn't delivered on time and big gains if finished ahead of schedule.

And that's what Ald. David Parker, 2nd Ward, was referring to when he said, "...they (Lunda) should have to share their gains."

He was referring to Lunda's latest request that the city close Old River Drive, which is about a half-mile section of roadway that runs parallel to the Ben Butterworth Parkway. The contractor then could not only stage steel on the parking lot at the east end of Old River Drive, but large pieces could be laid out and assembled on the roadway, said Mayor Stephanie Acri.

Parker's remark about sharing "gains" was not motivated by greed. As he said late last week, everybody wants to see the bridge finished as soon as possible, but that doesn't mean there's no room to consider fair compensation.

Alderman Mike Wendt made a similar comment: "I want them to finish on time, but I don't want to read in the paper that they finished 28 days early and walked away with a $2 million windfall."

That is: He doesn't wish to hear about a considerable windfall that was achieved with the city's free help.

Regardless whether Old River Drive is closed, the portion of bike path that runs parallel to it must be rerouted, because it's too dangerous to have bikes and pedestrians so close to the current activity involving the steel. This effort will require city time and resources.

"It's great we can help them out, and I'm in favor of that 100 percent," Parker said. "I just want to make sure our citizens are compensated fairly. As in any partnership, if we're expected to give up amenities ... we should be made whole."

As the city looks into comparable compensation, and consideration is given to alternate staging locations, I would submit, Moline might consider a trade-out with Lunda. With so many barges and cranes at the contractor's immediate disposal, maybe the city could get some help prepping the site or even constructing the new Captain's Table restaurant that's located along the river, between the new bridge and the parkway parking lot.

In other words, it's a good problem to have, sorting out how to benefit singularly from a partnership that ultimately benefits everybody. Having the bridge finished isn't the only incentive that awaits Moline. The mayor said the riverfront land that will open up when the old bridge is gone will amount to about 12 acres, which is a good chunk for future economic development.

But that's not necessarily a reason to walk away from a present-day opportunity.

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

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