This is the headache we’ve been waiting for.
Last week, state transportation officials outlined the traffic restrictions that will be put in place, beginning Monday, to enable construction of the new Interstate-74 Mississippi River bridge and related corridor expansion.
To date, we’ve watched with a bit of awe as this concrete and steel creature has sprung from the river and earth. The scores of drill shafts, the stylish support piers – and, more recently – the tantalizing beginnings of the twin-basket handle arches that will be the architectural sizzle in what is expected to be a modern, widened span that will immeasurably improve travel in the Quad-Cities.
This has all been done, relatively speaking, with little hassle to motorists.
That’s about to end.
Beginning Monday, weather permitting, the builders of the new I-74 span will put in place major restrictions on people who are traveling this busy corridor.
Local Iowa-bound travelers will have to use the River Drive on-ramp in downtown Moline in order to get across the I-74 bridge. Meanwhile, drivers going to downtown Moline won’t be able to use I-74 north of Avenue of the Cities. Instead, they'll be routed off the interstate and onto 19th Street, which runs roughly parallel to I-74.
Traffic that does cross the Iowa-bound span will have to exit at Grant Street/U.S. 67 and then wind its way up Kimberly Road to Middle Road in order to access westbound I-74. If all goes according to plan, at the end of May, drivers in downtown Bettendorf will be able to get back onto I-74 westbound using the newly completed on-ramp there.
The DOTs say they believe they'll be able to shift the local traffic on 19th Street to the new lanes of Iowa-bound I-74 by the end of the year. However, the requirement that Iowa-bound drivers exit at Grant Street off the I-74 bridge will continue into the first half of next year, until the new Iowa-bound span is completed.
To reduce congestion, traffic from outside the Quad-Cities will be rerouted to I-80 and I-280.
These detours mean a lot of traffic will be taken off the interstate and funneled onto local roads – on both sides of the river. On 19th Street alone, planners expect an additional 20,000 vehicles per day, far more than usual.
As we say, this should be no surprise. This has been part of the planning for years.
Still, we don't look forward to it. And we know Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri has been pitching an alternate plan. She worries planners have not adequately accounted for the train traffic that goes through downtown Moline.
We don't know what to expect, either. But we're going to find out.
Somebody suggested to us this will be much like a kitchen remodel. It's a hassle to rearrange your life – cooking on a hot plate and doing dishes in a bathroom sink – but when all is said and done, the finished kitchen looks better and is more functional than before.
Same thing with the new I-74 bridge.
We understand that point of view. How many years have we lived with the claustrophobia of crossing a span with no shoulders, or trying to merge from downtown Bettendorf onto the bridge, necks craned, looking for an opening as speeding traffic whizzes by?
Sometimes that traffic moves over; sometimes it doesn't.
Someday, that will be a memory, and so will the traffic detours we're about to endure.
As we embark on this journey together, we should all be patient. We may be sitting in traffic together for longer than usual. But, as travelers, we also ask the people who are planning and constructing these improvements to listen during these long months – listen to the people who are having to deal with these detours.
There may be things the corridor planners didn't think of, or conditions (dare we say flooding?) that may upend their best-laid plans.
Please be flexible. We'll try to do the same.
So far, we are impressed with the idea that officials are planning for manual controls at some lighted intersections in order to deal with the problem spots.
There may be other audibles that must be called to deal with unforeseen circumstances.
This will not be easy. Let us all hope we can all handle it with patience and good humor and look forward to the day when the remodel of our busiest cross-border corridor is finished, making our everyday commute easier and safer.