A critical piece of the arches for the new Interstate 74 bridge is in place, and the first news on arch alignment is good.
The placement of an intermediate strut began Friday and continued throughout the weekend. The first strut, which is a lateral brace, was set on the Iowa side of the river, on the Iowa-bound span. It connects the sides of the arch, and an identical strut will be placed on the Illinois side after another pair of segments is added.
After months of rumor, speculation and disputes between the bridge contractor and the Iowa DOT, Monday's arch news delivered new confidence: The two sides of the arch that set off from their piers near the Bettendorf shoreline are within a half-inch in length of one another.
"The preliminary survey results look good," said Danielle Alvarez, Iowa DOT project manager for the bridge. "Within a half-inch is something we're very happy with. As close to perfect as we could get was the goal. We all had a good feeling it was going to be close.
"It's definitely some good news."
The new bridge has been in need of good news. Months of construction delays, an opening date for the westbound span that's a year behind, and cost-and-design disputes between the contractor and the DOT have produced considerable frustration and concern among many, including Quad-City motorists who are impacted most by the project
"It's something we're very happy with," Alvarez said Monday afternoon of the preliminary measurement that was taken first thing in the morning.
She noted that a half-inch variation is impressive, given the arch segments on the Iowa side already are 285 feet long and were raised and connected over water.
The strut-connection process will be repeated on the Illinois-bound bridge. In addition to the four intermediate struts needed for both spans, they also will have a total of four keystone struts at the highest point of the arches.
The lateral braces are permanent and supply support and rigidity to the arch system. Geometric precision is imperative if the opposing sides of the arches are to successfully meet.
"This connection will take some finesse to complete the install as it is the first time we are pairing the two lines of the arch together," Alvarez said.
Bridge contractor Lunda Construction and the DOT were prepared, she said, for some deviation in arch-segment lengths.
Several fill plates of varying size were fabricated about a year ago, so the contractor would be prepared to make up for any small differences in arch-segment length.
"The half-inch fill plate is like a giant washer to connect that difference in length at the intermediate strut," Alvarez said.
Construction of the basket-handle design arches has not gone smoothly in recent months.
Lunda Construction has struggled with the process and disagreed with the DOT on whether the design is "constructible." The parties also have been in negotiations over contract modifications that have supplied Lunda with funding beyond the agreed-upon price.
Lunda's winning bid of $322 million represents about one-third the total cost of all aspects of the $1.2 billion project, including ramps, interstate realignment and other elements.
Mark Lowe, director of the Iowa DOT, said late last month that the state is confident in the bridge design and said it is up to Lunda to determine "the means, method and sequence" of getting it built.
He said Lunda's position is that it cannot build the arches at the contracted price. The state's initial bridge estimate was $64 million higher than Lunda's bid — $386 million, and Lowe said he expects any overages to remain within that initial estimate.
Work on the arches dragged during the typically productive summer construction season, but the pace picked up in recent weeks, and additional arch segments have been added relatively quickly.
Lowe said it is possible the state will wind up in a lawsuit with Lunda and said the company could be assessed damages for delays determined to be in violation of their contract.
"I wouldn't describe our relationship as adversarial, but there are things we need to resolve," Lowe said.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.