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Orange safety cones and detour signs are about to multiply in downtown Moline, all a prelude to the next three-plus years of construction of the new Interstate 74 bridge.

At a news conference Wednesday at Moline City Hall, transportation officials and city of Moline representatives discussed changes that are about to affect Moline residents, workers and visitors to the downtown area.

Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri said drivers will have "to navigate some inconveniences." But the end result, she said is a $1.2 billion bridge that "is going to change the way we navigate across the river." 

The biggest changes in the near future will come to 7th Avenue, one of the major gateways into downtown.

Ryan Hippen, a construction field engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation, outlined these changes for motorists: 

• Beginning Sept. 13: Crews will begin removing medians along 7th Avenue from 19th to 23rd streets, causing daily lane closures. Vehicles traveling west on 7th Avenue will be unable to make a left turn onto the I-74 on-ramp. A posted detour route will send westbound 7th Avenue traffic around the block to 18th Street, 6th Avenue, 19th Street and back to eastbound 7th Avenue to take the I-74 eastbound on-ramp. This detour is expected to last through mid-September.

• Beginning the week of Sept. 25: The intersection of 7th Avenue and 19th Street will be closed until early December. Detour routes will steer vehicles away from the intersection. Hippen said the work includes new pavement, curb and gutters.

• Additionally, 19th Street is closed for sewer work from 12th Avenue to 7th Avenue.

"The good news is the ramps (to I-74) are staying open, but the turning movements will be limited," he said. "We want to stress to motorists to please be patient."

Hippen called the work "a key milestone to get accomplished" ahead of other work related to the new span, especially more significant changes coming to the whole I-74 corridor in 2019.

Moline Public Works Director J.D. Schulte said the project team's goal is to provide safe, accessible routes into downtown Moline, which now is home to 5,600 downtown workers and 2,400 residents.  Another 5,600 workers access the Rock Island Arsenal through downtown Moline, he said. 

In addition, he said other pending projects, including two new hotels and other housing projects, will bring more visitors and residents to downtown.

"We want to make sure motorists, residents and people coming to downtown Moline know we are cognizant of their safety and convenience," Schulte added. 

He applauded the construction team, including the Illinois and Iowa DOTs and construction consultants, with reducing the project's timeline by four years and its price tag by $70 million.

"This was going to be an eight-year project," he said. 

Danielle Mulholland, the I-74 project manager for the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the project now has moved into phase two and faces another 3½ years of construction.

But she and Hippen both stressed that it will be in 2019 when drivers see the most impact to Interstate 74. 

In the spring of 2019, northbound I-74 (Iowa bound) will be closed at Avenue of the Cities, Mulholland said. Motorists will have to exit I-74 at Avenue of the Cities and be routed on 19th Street to reach downtown or to get back on the interstate. The only downtown access to the bridge will be at River Drive.

At that time, Iowa bound bridge traffic will be down to a single lane on the existing bridge and will have to exit at Grant Street, travel north on a detour through Bettendorf to Middle Road to return to I-74.

For southbound (Illinois bound) traffic in 2019, the first exit will be Avenue of the Cities. Detours will lead travelers downtown on 19th Street.

"This is all part of the staging to get the rest of the bridge done in 3½ years," she said of the upcoming work.

The same year, all the through traffic will be detoured to Interstate 80 and 280 bridges, Hippen said.

Acri said the city and region are fortunate to have "one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the United States coming here."

But she said the city is concerned visitors will be apprehensive about traveling to downtown Moline during the construction.

"It looks complicated and confusing on paper, but there will be signs to help you navigate,'' Acri said. "But everybody is open ... Keep an open mind and find your way to downtown Moline."