DAVENPORT, Iowa (A P) — Two bridges crossing the Mississippi River, spanning from the banks of Bettendorf to Moline, represent over 100 years of history. They sit close together, graceful arches butted up against dark, rigid towers. One sits empty, while the other is filled with cars crossing state lines. Just a few months ago, their positions were switched.
The Quad-Cities entered a new era in December when the new I-74 bridge fully opened and the old bridge closed for good. What once inspired annoyance in many and even terror in some, now gives people an easy, convenient and safe route between Illinois and Iowa. It took decades, but both sides of the river and beyond came together to see it through until today, the Quad City Times reports.
“It takes time, so we all believed in it,” said Bi- State Regional Commission Executive Director Denise Bulat. “We had support from everyone, and that’s why it became reality.”
While the work isn’t done yet, here’s a look back at what it took to get these bridges made, and what is to come of both of them in the future.
Before 1935, the only methods of crossing the Mississippi River in the Quad-Cities were on a ferry or over the Government Bridge, from Davenport to Rock Island. As vehicles became more available and the area’s population grew, one local entrepreneur saw an opportunity to provide an efficient way over the river and generate revenue.
According to an Iowa Historic Property Study submitted to the Iowa DOT and State Historic Preservation Office in 2012, William P. Bettendorf, the man who founded Bettendorf Co. and the City of Bettendorf, first had the idea to build a private toll
bridge between Bettendorf and Moline. Tallgrass Historians L.C., based in Iowa City and now known as Tallgrass Archeology LLC, conducted the study.
Bettendorf began working to build the Iowa-Illinois Memorial bridge in 1907, a year after the General Bridge Act of 1906 made it legal for private citizens to build bridges as business ventures. With official permission from Congress through the “Bettendorf Bridge Bill,” the Moline and Bettendorf Bridge Co. was ready to go.
But Bettendorf’s death in 1910 halted any momentum the project had. The Moline and Bettendorf Bridge Co. couldn’t raise enough money to begin building, and it wasn’t until 1927 that growing populations and traffic brought the idea back into the Quad-Cities’ minds.
In the end, neither the cities of Bettendorf or Moline even built the bridge. It was the city of Davenport that partnered with a group of businessmen to help them finance the venture, as the stock market crash in 1928 made it impossible for the entrepreneurs to finance it on their own and Moline refused the franchise.
The newly formed Davenport Bridge Commission handled the project, after the franchise was shifted from local interests to the city in 1931.
Even after gaining necessary approvals, the project had its fair share of hiccups. The original bridge design was met with protest, as it was too close to Arsenal Island and not tall enough to allow certain ships to navigate under it.
After a redesign was approved by the U.S. War Department, construction was further delayed by the city’s quest to receive a loan of $1.25 million from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a federal loan
agency created to help businesses survive the Great Depression.
Iowa Rep. Bernhard Jacobsen had introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives to extend the timing of the beginning and completion of the bridge to give time for the loan to come through, but the application was denied. The bill wasn’t signed until 1933.
Moline served as the final obstacle to bridge construction. In July 1933 the Moline City Council voted to oppose the project, as they felt they hadn’t been included in its creation or plans. The Davenport Bridge Commission agreed to pay for street improvements for Moline’s bridge approach, and construction began in July 1934.
On Nov. 18, 1935, the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge opened to the public. Tolls charged passenger vehicles and light trucks
15 cents, heavy trucks 30 cents, and pedestrians using the bridge sidewalk 5 cents.
Once the bridge and construction on either side of it were complete, the Davenport Bridge Commission thought the work done. There were no plans to build onto it, until almost 20 years later.
By 1951, an average of almost 9,000 cars were passing over the bridge every day, an increase of over 500% from 1935. Since the bridge had opened, development in Bettendorf, Moline and East Moline had exploded due to the new transportation corridor, creating congestion on the bridge.
Luckily, the toll had brought in around $410,000, which the bridge commission could use to build a twin span, with little other funding needed. They received government approval to build the second
span in 1952, but not at the local level. Bettendorf wanted veto power on where the twin span was going to go, Moline once again wanted money to fund street changes, and both towns were worried about buildings getting torn down again.
Despite these objections, the project moved forward. Construction began on the new span, placed just west of the original, in July 1958 and finished in November 1959.
Five years later, it was incorporated into Interstate 74. The federal government did away with the bridge’s tollbooth and sidewalk and gave it new connection spans and on-and-off ramps. The bridge reopened to the public in 1974, and was finished through Moline in 1975.
After another 20 years with the I-74 bridge in operation, it once again became overwhelmed by
traffic. This is when the idea for a whole new bridge came about.
From the first look at the old I-74 bridge to now, with the new I-74 bridge project almost complete, the Quad-Cities has seen 20 mayors, 16 county board chairs, and nine district engineers from the Iowa and Illinois Departments of Transportation. An average of 450 people a day worked on the whole corridor in the four-and-a-half years of major construction, and more work is still to be done.
Iowa DOT District Transportation Planner Sam Shea said he doesn’t think there’s been any other project quite like this one. He’d never worked on a project with such size and scale, and the sheer number of organizations involved and all the work that had to be done made the process long and sometimes complicated.