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The proposed Interstate 74 bridge, as viewed from Leach Park in Bettendorf.
The original span of the Iowa-Illinois Veterans Memorial Bridge was completed in 1935. The second span was completed in 1959.
For the third time in the less than 100 years, Iowa and Illinois are looking for ways to improve traffic flow across the Mississippi River.
In the early 1900s, citizens took a half-hour ferry ride from Davenport to Rock Island in summer and in winter braved the frozen Mississippi to get across.
The Government Bridge did link the two towns, beginning in 1896, but it was (and continues to be) subject to barge delays.
In 1910 plans for the bridge between Moline and Bettendorf began. Construction started in June 1934 and took 500 laborers off the Great Depression unemployment rolls.
The oldest span -- today's Iowa-bound span -- was built as a Works Project Administration project in 1935 and named the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge in tribute to World War I veterans. It is the oldest remaining suspension bridge on the Mississippi.
The original bridge was a toll bridge with a sidewalk, two-lane roadbed and old-fashioned, wrought-iron light posts that stood alone for 25 years as the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge. Horse-drawn vehicles were required to pay 30 cents, while cars, motorcycles and bicycles paid 15 cents, and pedestrians 5 cents.
As the years passed, traffic on the crossing increased by 500 percent. Its yearly toll revenue in 1951 was $410,000, which mean an average of 4,000 vehicles a day.
The second span went up west of the first between June 1958 and December 1959 at a cost of $6,182,402 -- four times the cost of the original bridge. It opened in November 1959 and the older span closed for repairs. Both new "twin bridges" were officially opened and dedicated Jan. 20, 1960. For just that day, the new span was free and closed to cars. Citizens were invited to walk across and inspect it.
The toll was never adjusted between 1935 and 1960. when the new four-lane twin suspension bridge opened, the tolls remained the same.
A large toll booth was built in the center of the bridge, where a small parking area remains today. The toll offices hung below the bridge, under the tollbooth.
In the 1960s, the federal government wanted the bridges for the planned Interstate 74 river crossing. The Davenport Bridge Commission, which by Iowa law controlled the bridge even though it wasn't in the city of Davenport, turned over the bridges on Dec. 31, 1969, after toll revenues were sufficient to repay construction financing.
Beginning in 1971 the sidewalk was removed from the older span, the toll booth and suspended below-deck offices were removed from the middle, bridge approaches were razed, and the new, elevated Interstate 74 was connected to the bridge decks.
The I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River opened to traffic in both direction on Nov. 26, 1974, and Interstate 74 was completed through Moline on Dec. 10, 1975.
In 2001, the Iowa Department of Transportation began its I-74 Iowa-Illinois Corridor Study. At that time the bridge had 69,000 vehicle crossings daily and a crash record three times higher than the national average. Talk of a new bridge began to become louder.
Because federal funds will be used in the project, an environmental impact statement is required. The Iowa Department of Transportation is working on that statement now and expects to finish it this fall. The Federal Highway Administration will issue a "record of decision" that will let the states know whether they can move forward with the project, said Katherine Cutler, transportation planner for the Iowa Department of Transportation.
The project is expected to be approved because the IDOT has been working closely with the Federal Highway Administration.
"From then on it will be a question of securing funding to proceed with our final design and obviously right-of-way acquisition," Ms. Cutler said. "What we would continue to look at is our local partners in the cities and Bi-State continuing to request additional federal funding."
Local officials are already working to secure funding for the project, which is estimated to cost $670 million. That estimate is likely to increase by the time construction gets under way, Ms. Cutler said. Several million dollars have already been secured.
Funding for a major project like this is typically tied with a transportation bill. Congress is working on a transportation bill now, and the next bill likely won't come up until 2009.
"Most of that money requires a 20 percent match, so 10 percent from each state, so that has to be budgeted for in our programming," she said.
Securing funding for the project likely will be the biggest hurdle.
"It's a lot of money no matter what perspective you have," Ms. Cutler said. "Times are tight. Both state's budgets are really tight right now. There's just really a lot of needs. Road systems are aging, bridges are aging."
When funding is in place, the final design process will get under way. The design of the bridge will be a True Arch.
"The existing bridges are coming down," Ms. Cutler said. "This would be an entirely new structure and it's upriver about 300 feet from where the current bridge is."
A group of community representatives are working on developing a theme for the new bridge. Ms. Cutler said they welcome public input and several public meeting swill be held this summer to get more information out.
"This is a corridor that local people drive and use every day," she said. "We're very pleased to have their input into how it will look. Some decisions are by nature engineering-based, but when we can have input we sure try to."