When does four equal one?

Map of QCDavenport, Bettendorf, Moline, and Rock Island – these four cities (plus about a dozen other contiguous cities) make up one metro area that jumps the Mississippi River to cover parts of two states. Although each city is its own entity, the identity of the area is that of a cohesive metro. The population of the Quad Cities is balanced on both sides of the river as are the major employers. Getting back and forth over the river is a daily occurrence for both Iowa and Illinois residents. Keeping that traffic moving over the Mississippi River is a cooperative effort between the Iowa and Illinois departments of Transportation.

“Making sure drivers have reliable crossing options is very important in this region,” said Doug Rick, from the Iowa DOT’s Davenport office. “There are really three main crossings that commuters use, the Government Bridge, Centennial Bridge and I-74. There are two other crossing in the Quad Cities area, one on I-80 and one carrying I-280, but these are mostly for people who need to cross the river but don’t have to stop in the metro area.”

Of the three commuter crossings, the:

  • U.S. 67 Centennial Bridge opened in 1940.
  • Pair of suspension bridges that carry I-74 between Bettendorf and Moline are known collectively as the I-74 bridge or the Memorial Bridge, and the first span opened in 1935.
  • Government Bridge was built in the 1890s.

Nearly two decades ago, the Bi-State Regional Commission completed a study of the river crossings in the Quad Cities metro area. Rick said, “They found something quite amazing for a metro area like ours. People cross the river at all times of the day for many different reasons. They found residents made little distinction between the states and cities. They also found that traffic is consistently balanced in both directions. There isn’t one stream of traffic into one area in the morning and out of one area at the afternoon rush hours. That consistency in the traffic levels is very unusual.”

In the study, the Bi-State Regional Commission identified barriers for commuters. They recommended that tolls be removed from the Centennial Bridge connecting Davenport and Rock Island. They also recommended the I-74 bridge capacity be increased and a new crossing be considered at some point in the future. The first recommendation has been accomplished. The second is in the works; the third is in the long-range sites of area planners.

For the I-74 bridge, the study and planning process began in 2000. Final environmental work was completed in 2009, when the design process began. Rick, who is managing the I-74 project for the Iowa DOT, said, “The bridge is co-owned by Iowa and Illinois, but Iowa has the lead on constructing a new I-74 crossing. I have been amazed at the cooperation between the states and cities. We have a great relationship with the Illinois DOT staff in their Dixon office and we meet regularly to talk about our common issues. Each state has a little different process to get things done, but we’ve been able to work very successfully together over the years. In addition, there is a group of state and local officials that have been meeting for about 15 years now to discuss the future of I-74 and having these relationships has made this project move along very smoothly.”

That cooperation is very evident in the staging for the $1.4 billion I-74 project. Rick said, “There are several advance projects on both sides of the river that impact the corridor. Staging those projects in a way that caused the least disruption was everyone’s goal.”

Phases and cost

The advance projects on 53rd Street in Davenport and the Lincoln Road bridge in Bettendorf have been noticeable and welcomed improvements. Last year in Moline on River Drive and this year and next in Bettendorf on U.S. 67, much work is happening to prepare the local roads for the new I-74 interchanges on each side of the river. With all this work going on, Rick says the I-74 project, which will completely replace the existing set of twin bridges, is becoming real to area residents.

“We were in the planning stage for nearly two decades, so people didn’t really think about the project much. This year we had to remove a large number of trees and about 40 buildings in downtown Bettendorf for the U.S. 67 project,” said Rick. “For a little while, it looked like a tornado went through, but people understand what we’re doing. We get out to all kinds of groups talking about the project and we hear an abundance of supportive comments for what we’re doing. We expect when the project is finished, there will be a revitalization of Bettendorf’s downtown area. The city has plans to add several amenities to improve the quality of life for those visiting downtown Bettendorf. ”

I-74 bridge project

Rick says the people want a transportation system they can count on. “They tell us they want reliability,” he said. “The need to be able to judge how long a trip will take. If you go to work from Bettendorf to Moline every morning, you need to have a reliable way to get there. Early in the process, the planning group found that connections for pedestrians and bicycles needed to be included. That helped set priorities and plan for a multimodal bridge that will meet these needs.”

Bridge details

“Getting out and talking to our customers and partners has been critical,” said Rick. “The media in our area has been a good partner to get the message out. Citizens ask great questions and we try to answer them quickly. I think the relationships we’ve developed in all of the cities and both states will benefit the area long after the I-74 bridge is complete in 2020.”


Artist rendition
Artist's rendition of the new I-74 bridge

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