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Plans for Wildlife Quad Cities Bridge Develop

Monday, August 9, 2021

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Instead of tearing down the Fred Schwengel Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 80 over the Mississippi River and is jointly owned by Iowa and Illinois, President of Living Lands and Waters Chad Pregracke is planning for another solution.

Developed by the Bison Bridge Foundation, a team headed by Pregracke, the group is looking to turn the retiring bridge into a wildlife crossing for bison, pedestrians, and cyclists.

“It’s one thing to talk about something, it’s another to be doing it and actively doing it with a bigger purpose in mind. And that’s kind of what we’ve been working towards,” said Pregracke.

Bison Bridge

According to reports, Pregracke first presented the idea for the bridge back in March during a livestream entitled, “A Historic Night in the Quad Cities,” however, the project idea has been in the works for the last two-and-a-half years. The idea was formed after Iowa and Illinois transportation officials declared the current I-80 bridge obsolete and in likely need of replacement.

The structure was opened in 1966 and was later named for a member of Iowa congress. The bridge is reported to carry some 42,000 cars per day and stretches just over a half mile long.

In his presentation, Pregracke described how the existing structure would be transformed into a land bridge, featuring several elements for tourists and locals alike. Not only would the improved structure serve to bring more visitors to the Quad Cities area, but it would also save some $20 million of taxpayer dollars in demolition efforts.

While the project’s flagship would be a bison preserve that would stretch across the bridge itself, the location would also utilize 100 acres of land for the animals to roam, in addition to the creation of a pedestrian wildlife viewing area and walkway, rentable event space, a visitor's center and a picturesque view of the river valley and neighboring towns of LeClaire, Iowa and Rapids City, Illinois.

“This will help put the Quad Cities on the map, literally. It will be an iconic stop on Interstate-80 to the 42,000 people who cross it each day,” said Pregracke at the time. “This would be the longest wildlife bridge in the world. We’re not building a bridge. We’re just trying to save what is there.”

By the following month, the Chicago Tribune reported that the project was gaining momentum and that Pregracke was working on raising private funds to preserve and transform the bridge in question.

Additionally, influential boosters of the developing project were making themselves know. Boosters reportedly include a local congresswoman, the chamber of commerce, the visitors bureau and various business leaders who find that the bridge has just the type of unconventional creativity that could help the Quad Cities gain notoriety beyond its common reputation as the home of John Deere, a PGA golf tournament and the Rock Island Arsenal, the nation’s largest government-owned weapons manufacturer.

Backed by the Foundation, conceptual renderings of the project were released by John Deere and two top former IDOT officials were also reported to be closely involved on the projects happenings and even helped to design the transformed structure.

“You can be a big thinker and come up with an idea and not get very far. What I appreciate about Chad Pregracke is he’s a big thinker and a big doer. He’s proven it,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, an early supporter of the project whose western Illinois district includes the bridge.

“With his personality and perseverance, Chad’s got the wherewithal to make this happen.”

According to the Tribune, Pregracke had previously gained national acclaim for his decades of living aboard a barge cleaning up the Mississippi and other rivers around the country, removing some 11 million pounds of trash, planting nearly 1.5 million trees, working with 117,000 volunteers and educating more than 11,000 students aboard a floating classroom through his nonprofit.

Although he was hesitated to share the idea for the bridge at first, Bustos went as far as to suggest that after completion, the area should look into being declared a national park as it would offer the opportunity to tell the story of not just the prairie and bison, but the region’s rich Native American history.

In looking to the project’s website, work is still being conducted regarding the planning and collecting feedback for the project. The Foundation explains that the State of Illinois Department of Transportation is responsible for the preliminary study, design, and construction of a new crossing over the Mississippi River at I-80 in the Quad Cities. However, oversight is also being provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation - Federal Highways Administration and the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The Foundation is also working to collect signatures to demonstrate public opinion that the Bison Bridge project would be a worthwhile investment. Thus far, the project has over 30,000 signatures listed on its petition.

While this is ongoing, Phase I engineering is expected to be underway by the winter, which will what be what really gets the project considered for approval by the State of Illinois and the Federal Highways Administration.

If approved to move forward, Phase II engineering would involve plans for demolition of the existing bridge and plans for constructing the new one. The Bison Bridge Foundation hopes to change the narrative to include repurposing the existing bridge rather than demolishing it.

Should the project make it through the upcoming hurdles, construction would begin in approximately 2026, following the completion of Phase I and Phase II engineering and design work.

Wildlife Crossings

Slowly gaining popularity across the nation, back in 2019, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced that it had entered its final design stage for an $8.7 million animal overpass, slated to cross the Los Angeles 101 Freeway.

The wildlife crossing, dubbed the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing, will connect various parts of the Santa Monica Mountains, creating a safe passage for local native species.

Originally inspired by Southern California’s native wildlife—particularly mountain lions, as they’ve seen genetic diversity shrinkage having been confined to smaller habitats surrounded by freeways and developments—the National Wildlife Federation, partnering with the Santa Monica Mountains Fund and a large community of supporters, created the #SaveLACougars campaign to raise funds for a wildlife crossing.

As published in Ecological Applications in March, a study by the University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Davis; and the National Park Service also shows that the limited geographic range in which the bridge plans to be built, currently poses extinction risks to mountain lions, which is estimated to occur within the next 50 years.

At the time of the announcement, officials were still working on the third phase of the project—final designs and engineering. Proposed designs for the project revealed a 165-foot-wide by 200-foot-long bridge, slated to be constructed at Freeway 101’s 33-mile marker. The bridge will stretch over 10 lanes of traffic, which reportedly see some 300,000 cars a day, and include an extension over nearby Agoura Road.

Covered in sound- and light-blocking barriers—made of high-edged berms and hollows—architect Clark Stevens hopes the topography on the infrastructure will be indistinguishable from the surrounding scenery. His design plans to cover eight acres of landscape with the bridge making up just one of them.

Aiming to ultimately provide better access to food and potential mates for big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other native creatures, the project is expected to break ground within two years and be completed by 2023, according to engineer Sheik Moinuddin, project manager with Caltrans.

The unique infrastructure was estimated to be the biggest in the world of its kind.

Two years earlier, also in California, the DOT was proposing a Liberty Canyon Bridge, which would help mountain lions breed and promot genetic diversity among big species. The structure would reconnect the Santa Monica Mountains with the Sierra Madre across U.S. Route 101.

The project, officially known as the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Habitat Connectivity Project, involves plans to construct an overpass over 101 in the area of the City of Agoura Hills, just south of Simi Valley, outside Los Angeles. Pending approvals and funding, the bridge was set to begin construction in 2022, and it’s moving along according to plan—Caltrans released a draft environmental assessment for the project in mid-September of 2017.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Transportation

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