116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DAVENPORT — The "We Made It" theme was fitting for Wednesday's celebration of the near-opening of both Interstate 74 bridge spans.
The project took nearly 30 years of planning and construction, at a cost of more than $1 billion, and coincided with a polar vortex, record-breaking Mississippi River flooding, a derecho and a global pandemic.
Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn has been there for most of it.
"I'm excited," he said as he stood under the already-iconic arches of the new eastbound span. "I'm euphoric."
The Illinois governor, a congresswoman, state transportation officials and local mayors took turns at a center-of-the-bridge stage Wednesday morning to praise the collaborations and commitments of those who built the double spans.
A red carpet was rolled out in front of the stage, which held 20 sets of gold-handled scissors used by dignitaries for the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
The bridge is expected to open to traffic within the next few days.
Scott Marler, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the new spans represent the largest transportation project in state history, averaging 450 workers a day for four years.
Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman said the spans “close an important chapter in this region and open a new one," referring to the economic development and other opportunities the improved I-74 corridor is likely to deliver.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker took it up a notch, calling it "a corridor that's vital to the future of the Quad Cities" and makes "day-to-day driving and day-to-day living better for Quad-City families."
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had a previous commitment and did not attend.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, called Wednesday, "a glorious day," giving credit to the hundreds of laborers who built the new twin spans.
"They made this happen," she said before telling the morning crowd of a couple hundred invited guests about driving over the old bridge for the first time 36 years ago. She called it a white-knuckle experience.
Pointing to the soon-to-be-demolished old bridge just downstream of the new one, Bustos said many in the region are thrilled the day finally has come, " … just as our ancestors must've been over the moon 86 years ago" when the first span was completed.
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher predicted, "People will come from all over to visit us here (and) walk or bike the bridge."
Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati thanked the ironworkers, crane operators, concrete crews and other laborers for their, "skill, sweat and dedication."
Their efforts, she said, are helping launch downtown Moline into a period of renewal.
"We face a wealth of possibilities and opportunities," Rayapati said, adding the new bridges "redefine what it means to live in or visit the Quad Cities."
Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said the I-74 spans will give the St. Louis Arch a run for its standing as the most iconic arch on the Mississippi River.
Several of the speakers returned to the stage for the afternoon's public celebration.
While about 2,000 people signed up online as attendees, an estimated 5,000 people had walked onto the bridge from the ramp at Moline's River Drive by 2 p.m. The event continued until 4 p.m., and downtown sidewalk traffic showed no signs of letting up.
The unusually mild December weather, along with the many years of waiting, appeared to place the public in the same high spirits as those who spoke during the morning ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Upbeat music floated across the span from dozens of speakers, and hundreds of people stopped along the half-mile stretch between River Drive and the eastbound arch to take cellphone pictures.
Some danced and sang. Some stood still long enough to take long looks at the arches above. They posed for each other's pictures and softly sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."