Editorial: Imagining a new I-80 bridge
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Editorial: Imagining a new I-80 bridge

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I-80 bridge

Last Wednesday, more than 500 people joined an online webinar to take the first steps toward what may be a new Interstate-80 bridge over the Mississippi River.

The idea that we might be embarking on the construction of a new bridge in the Quad-Cities may seem hard to imagine. Completion of the new I-74 span is still a year away, and that undertaking was decades in the making.

Yet, it’s long been known the I-80 bridge wasn’t up to par. Built in 1966, the structure clearly is obsolete and it requires a lot of maintenance. In 2010, the bridge was even closed for two months while repairs were made.

Transportation officials in Iowa and Illinois say no decision has been made yet what will be done, but they also say the bridge is "reaching the end of its useful life." The Illinois DOT has included $304 million in its six-year transportation plan to build a new crossing. Iowa has not yet committed construction funding, but the span is clearly on its radar.

What began Wednesday was a prelude to what’s expected to be a lengthier study of the necessity for a new bridge. This isn’t going to be the same decades-long undertaking that led to the new I-74 bridge, however. Alma Gaul reported in this newspaper on Thursday a new bridge could be built within the next 10 years. Which makes it all the more important that civic leaders and the public – all of us, really – see this process for what it is: Yet another opportunity to shape an important crossing in our community.

As anybody who has lived in the Quad-Cities for any length of time knows, this part of the community has seen marked growth in recent years, particularly in the areas around LeClaire. (The Iowa DOT already is studying potential improvements to the I-80 corridor west of the area encompassed by this new effort, and as it is the I-80 span carries 20 percent of the Quad-Cities' cross-river traffic.)

It may seem hard to envision a signature crossing where the I-80 bridge stands. As it is now, the the span – formally named after an Iowa congressman, Fred Schwengel, who served in the 1950s and '60s – is utilitarian at best. Its shoulders are non-existent, its type is out of date. Its design is decidedly ho-hum, hardly worth remarking upon. But just because it is a bit dull now, that doesn't mean it always has to be. Our question is this: What could it be? What are the possibilities?

Already, during Wednesday’s webinar, there were questions, a number of them, about the potential for multi-modal crossings on the span. And while one state official pointed out interstate routes aren’t typically the place for bicycle and pedestrian paths, this is the time to be asking these kinds of questions. After all, one of the most exciting aspects of the new I-74 crossing is the separated recreational path that will be a part of it.

We are enthused that, even as the states of Illinois and Iowa have made a major investment in the I-74 corridor, they still recognize the need to take steps to upgrade the I-80 crossing and its surroundings — and are committing resources to the effort.

As state transportation planners pointed out, there have been more than 500 crashes in the 9-mile study area over the past five years, and traffic over the bridge is expected to increase by 20 percent over the next 25 years.

What happened last week was just the first public step in what will be a planning process with significant ramifications for this community. Transportation officials say this Planning Environmental Linkages model, which is expected to be completed this year before going on to the next step, will include a vigorous public participation process.

We urge all Quad-Citians, whether they live around the I-80 bridge or elsewhere in the community, to imagine what this crossing could be – and get involved.

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