Good and bad news share the update on Interstate 74 bridge construction.
First the good news: By next month, the Iowa-bound span should no longer be reduced to one lane at the Bettendorf exit.
The ramp into downtown Bettendorf is being reconfigured to accommodate traffic exiting the bridge from two lanes. The current closure requires both lanes to merge prior to the exit, which has resulted in long lines, delays and crashes.
The widening of the top of the exit is expected to take about three weeks. During that time, construction vehicles will be coming and going from the area, so the Iowa Department of Transportation is asking that motorists be especially cautious and obey the speed limit.
On the bad news front: Progress on the all-important arches has been dramatically abbreviated by flooding. The Mississippi River is too high and too fast to permit contractors to safely move the extra-tall crane that is needed to erect all 30 sections of the arches above the westbound lane.
Without the completed arch, the roadway for the new span cannot be completed. Initially planned to be finished this fall, the westbound lane now is expected to open sometime in the first half of 2020.
"With the completion of one of the most complex aspects of the project — the arch — we will have a more accurate picture of the schedule," said Danielle Alvarez, I-74 project manager for the Iowa DOT. "We continue to monitor progress and will assess any potential delays when the river level is back to normal."
A particularly cold and snowy winter impacted workers' ability to navigate the river, and the Mississippi River has been above major flood stage for about two months, causing more difficulties for workers.
"The contractor has been monitoring the river levels and speed of the current to determine the safety of moving equipment," Alvarez said. "On May 13, the contractor was successful in moving the crane used for the arch erection to the other side of the navigation channel (Illinois side).
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"We proceeded to set two arch segments on May 15 and 17. However, due to the flooding, we have been unable to meet the planned production levels. As soon as the river level/current allows, we hope to get into the full swing of construction and complete the new bridge as quickly as possible."
The completed arches will contain 30 sections and four struts, which are the connecting pieces between the two arches for each span. At their highest points, the arches will rise 164 feet above the roadways.
The arch segments are not welded. As iron workers from Rock Island-based Local 111 explained, each segment is bolted to the next, using between 1,000 and 2,000 bolts each. An iron worker must enter the elevated segments with a torque wrench to connect the pieces.
Brian Atkins, business manager for Local 111, said Thursday that 53 Quad-City iron workers are working on the bridge and its approaches. Another 25-or-so are on the job from outside the area.
"What's over the river is what's holding us up," Atkins said. "The water and the parts not getting up here from St. Louis; those things are slowing things down."
When the river finally drops below major flood stage, which is forecast to occur around June 12, another 30-or-more iron workers from 111 will be called up.
"Our guys won't see their families this fall," Atkins said of the work that lies ahead. "But they'll be making money for a nice Christmas."
Alvarez said no injuries have occurred in any of the construction areas, despite challenging conditions.
"The construction crews on all the sites are working as quickly as possible to make the new bridge a reality," she said. "We thank everyone for their patience and understanding during construction, and we ask motorists to continue driving with caution through the construction zones."