MOLINE, Ill. — It was a day that many joked the Quad Cities would never see.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, a celebratory ribbon cutting heralded the new I-74 bridge, now just days away from full completion.
The theme of the ceremony was 'we made it': fitting, after all the troubles the I-74 project brought.
It took roughly 25 years, including four years of construction, $1 billion in funding, and thousands of hours of labor from hundreds of workers to reach Wednesday's milestone. Along the way, crews and leaders endured frigid and bitter winters, record flooding along the Mississippi River, and two years of navigating construction through a pandemic.
"We have powered through all of these challenges together to create a gateway," said Scott Marler, Director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, opening up Wednesday's festivities. "One that is connected, that's iconic, that's handcrafted, and that creates opportunities for those in our communities and beyond."
Underneath the watchful gaze of those already-iconic twin arches, dignitaries, mayors, leaders and a crowd of guests gathered for a special celebration ceremony. Nearly 70-feet up in the air, many of those seated were transfixed by the arches and their multitude of cables.
"We're taking a critical piece of infrastructure, that has been mainly untouched since 1960, and turning it into a centerpiece that residents deserve," said Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
The governor said when he was first able to step foot on the Illinois-bound bridge he was struck by the view.
"This is beautiful. This is iconic. Honestly, I think that people will look to this like they do to so many other icons across the nation, as something that everyone can be proud of," he told reporters. "The men and women who built this should be intensely proud of the work that they've put in."
He joked that although this project began over 20 years ago, he hopes the next bridge won't take that long to complete.
"The most iconic river in the world. And as of this week, we have a new way to cross it," said Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos. "How glorious is that?"
Bustos noted that the day may have been decades in the making, but sees it as the start to 'a lot of good news' for the area.
"This is what makes the Quad Cities the Quad Cities! We all had to come together to make this happen," she said. "We had a vision, we executed and here we are today with the bridge opening."
And although the old I-74 bridge wasn't far from anyone's mind, Wednesday's ribbon cutting was focused on looking forward, to all of the opportunities to come.
"This new bridge will serve as a vital east, west link for the Midwest," said Marler.
Much of that attention was placed on the economic benefits the new bridge will be able to bring the region. Mayors from all five Quad Cities spoke about their excitement for increased tourism and business.
"This bridge offers a once in a generation opportunity to refresh our downtown," said Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati.
The day was also marked with repeated thanks to all the laborers that built the project up from the ground floor, beginning in 2017.
"The iron workers, operating engineers, laborers, cement masons, carpenters, electrical workers, Teamsters, painters, elevator constructors, they made this happen," said Bustos. "Thank you, to each and every one of them, for working beneath the water, on top of the water, and in the air for the last four years."
One of those workers, Sonia Shepard, got emotional after the ceremony.
"It's not just a bridge. We helped build it," she said.
Shepard, a local resident, has worked as a carpenter on the project since day one. She said the bridge was badly needed to ensure the community's safe commute back and forth each day.
When it came to that 'we made it' motto? Shepard says it couldn't be more on-point.
"There was some days we sweated, there's some days we froze out here in the rain. It's not easy doing what we do. But we did it," she said. "When my daughter drives across here, she's gonna know that her mom had a hand in building this bridge. And when my granddaughter is old enough, she'll drive across it and be like, 'My grandma helped build this bridge.' It's very emotional!"
Finally, after the snip of a ribbon, a new era began in the Quad Cities. Something Omer Osman, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, couldn't help but point out.
"Today is just the start of great things to come for the Quad Cities."