As the new Interstate-74 bridge nears completion, the city-owned land on the eastern end of Moline's Ben Butterworth Parkway is getting closer to a return to public use.
For more than two years, primary bridge builder, Lunda Construction, has been renting portions of the riverfront park, bike path and surrounding roadway to stage steel for bridge construction. The company's use of the property has made it largely off limits to the public and led to a bike-path detour and lost access to the popular boat ramp on the East Moline border.
When a rental agreement was reached, then-mayor Stephanie Acri referred to it as "a modest inconvenience" to the public.
City leaders said they were happy to cooperate, given their offering of riverfront land promised to expedite the bridge-building process by sparing Lunda the need to lay out 130-foot-long pieces of steel on barges in the Mississippi River.
Instead, the company used a large city parking lot to store steel and raised portions of the riverfront to accommodate a steel-loading system. A track-like conveyor rolls the giant girders from the parking lot across Old River Drive (temporarily closed) to the riverfront, where they are loaded onto a barge and moved the short distance downstream to the bridge-construction site.
Referred to as the "laydown yard," the small collection of city parcels has made space for the flooring system for the driving surface between the spans' arches. The eastbound arch was completed last month, and the addition of the flooring system between the arches is one of the final steps before the Illinois-bound bridge is open to traffic.
"We're grateful to work with Lunda," said John Knaack, president of the city's parks and recreation board. "We didn't help build the bridge, but we have some pride in being able to work with them.
"From that spot on the riverfront, the sunset against that bridge is wonderful."
Before the public can return to that spot, however, Lunda has considerable restoration work to do on the land it has been using.
A licensing agreement with the city requires Lunda to pay about $43,000 over the nearly three-year life of the lease, which city finance officials said Tuesday was paid in advance. The lease payments were required largely to make up for lost rental income on two parkway picnic shelters.
The agreement also requires the company to restore the parking lot, bike path and riverfront park, "... to the city's prescribed standards."
It expires at the end of the year, which is the same timeline for the completion of the bridge.
In addition to returning the bike path to its original riverfront configuration and clearing out and repairing the large city parking lot, Lunda must restore the riverfront itself. The company generally does not grant media interviews, but it appears workers have placed tons of gravel at the eastern-most end of the parkway to accommodate the loading of steel onto the Mississippi River.
In considering the land loan to Lunda, several city officials demanded the terms be in writing. Some wanted to ask the company for additional payment, but the current contract accounts only for actual costs to the city.
The inconvenience factor has been addressed with the bike-path detour, and the Moline Fire Department has managed for two years to put their rescue boat in the water at a once-abandoned boat launch at 34th Street.
"We've reached a point in the season now where our boat is back in the water at Marquis Marina (at the Captain's Table restaurant)," Fire Chief Jeff Snyder said. "From October to April, it was an issue for us for a couple of years, but we're back in the water for the season."
As Lunda's agreement with the city is active until the end of the year, it is possible the alternate boat launch will be needed by the fire department for another season.
"They're going to reconstruct all of it, all of the city's property," Knaack said. "It'll go right back to the way it was. We have records of what it all looked like.