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On the Iowa Department of Transportation's website, it's labeled as simply a "pre-bid meeting for the I-74 Steel Girder Bridge Replacement projects."

Not exactly the kind of thing to draw a crowd, right?

Don't bet on it.

On Thursday, at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf, scores people from construction companies are expected to attend a briefing and question and answer session in preparation for offering bids to replace the Interstate-74 bridge.

State and Quad-City transportation officials have said that the award of the contracts in April, estimated at roughly $400 million to $450 million, will be the largest in Iowa DOT's history. So it's probably not surprising the pre-bid conference will draw a big crowd, too.

"We've got a room that will hold between 200 and 250 people. I'm hoping that will do it," Sam Shea, a planner in the DOT's Cedar Rapids office, said last week.

If anything, the meeting, not to mention the award of contracts, is just the latest sign the long-planned-for replacement of the I-74 span is approaching. In fact, selection of prime contractors for the projects on April 25 will be just the first in a string of bid awards this year for work on the central section of the I-74 corridor.

For planners who have been working on the project for two decades, this is an important milestone. "It’s almost impossible to put into words. It’s a big deal," said Denise Bulat, executive director of the Bi-State Regional Commission.

After the selections are made on April 25, it will take 30 days to finalize contracts, Shea said, though it could be a bit longer because of the magnitude of the project. Then, later this year, work is expected to get underway in the Mississippi River to begin building the bridge's support piers.

The span itself will be built in 2019 and 2020, the DOT has said. Demolition of the existing bridge is expected to occur in 2021.

It's not clear yet how many contractors will be selected in April. The span that goes over the Mississippi River's navigation channel and the approach spans (that is, the bridges that go from the riverbank to connect to the navigation span) have what the DOT calls an "optional tie.” That means a company could bid on the two projects separately or as a single item.

The viaduct carrying traffic over downtown Bettendorf and the off-ramp is considered one project. So, at maximum, there would be three prime contractors selected, Shea said.

Meanwhile, the state of Illinois is planning its own contract awards for its part of the I-74 project later this year.

A contract is expected to be awarded in June for work from the river to 7th Avenue in Moline, which will include the viaduct over downtown and street improvements to accommodate the interchanges. Then, likely in September, contracts will be awarded for work on the interstate from 7th Avenue to just south of Avenue of the Cities, as well as street improvements, including reconstruction of 19th Street.

Work on the first project, which is estimated at $120 million, is expected to begin this summer, according to Becky Marruffo acting studies and plans engineer for the Illinois DOT’s District 2 office. The second project, which is estimated at $128 million, is expected to begin in the fall.

Overall, the I-74 corridor is projected to cost nearly $1.2 billion, a figure that is adjusted for inflation over the project's lifespan. The entire corridor extends from 53rd Street to Avenue of the Cities.

Follow-up File is a weekly feature on Mondays that updates a story we've published previously. If you have an idea for a Follow-up File story, email us at newsroom@qctimes.com.

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