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1 step closer to bison crossing: IHTC approves plans for I-80 bridge project

The Illinois House Transportation Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved plans to repurpose the I-80 bridge as a wildlife crossing. Now, it moves to a House vote.

RAPIDS CITY, Ill. — (Update: March 22) Plans to include the Bison Bridge project in the new I-80 bridge plans were unanimously passed Tuesday in a 9-0 vote in the Illinois House Transportation Committee.

“The Bison Bridge Foundation would like to thank this bi-partisan group of sponsors for their continued support of what is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to remake the identity of the Quad Cities Region.” said Chad Pregracke, Founder and Chairman of the Bison Bridge Foundation. 

Pregracke continued to say the project is heading in the right direction following Tuesday night's vote.

"While this is just a single step in a long process, it is significant and represents continuous progress towards our goal," he said. "Momentum is most certainly building for this project, and we can’t thank our network of supporters, stakeholders and of course our community leaders for lending assistance to our efforts."

The next step in the project is to pass the resolution through the State House of Representatives.

(Original: March 21) Illinois Quad Cities lawmakers are voicing their support for the Interstate 80 Bison Bridge project.

The Illinois House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, March 22, will hold a hearing for House Resolution 0699. The bipartisan resolution urges Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Transportation to develop plans for the new I-80 bridge incorporating the Bison Bridge project.

The resolution is sponsored by State Reps. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island), Tony McCombie (R-Savanna), Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), Dan Swanson (R-Woodhull), Norrine Hammond (R-Macomb) and House Transportation Chairperson Rep. Martin J. Moylan (D-Des Plaines).

"It's not a binding resolution by any means," said Matt Hughes, a transportation consultant with the Bison Bridge Foundation. "It's a resolution basically designed to build awareness, and then, of course, demonstrate the widespread local support with local and regional support from stakeholders in the Quad Cities."

The current I-80 bridge over the Mississippi River is 56 years old, and IDOT previously determined a new one was needed.

"It would be the support of the legislature to say, 'Hey, IDOT we want this project. We know you already have something in plans to demo the structure,'" Rep. McCombie said. "But it is the intent that we want and support this project and IDOT amending (its) plans for the bridge."

The current bridge is dangerously narrow, with no shoulders for vehicles to pull onto. With only two lanes on each side, it's too small for the amount of traffic it holds. Over 40,000 cars, trucks and semis cross it daily.

Now, IDOT is faced with the decision to either demolish it and build a new bridge in the same location of the current one or move it somewhere else along the river.

In December, IDOT got the green light to begin the first phase of engineering studies on the topic.

RELATED: As IDOT searches for new I-80 bridge location, nearby towns consider the impacts

The Bison Bridge Foundation proposes converting the current bridge into a wildlife crossing for bison. The other side would be a pedestrian crossing. 

"The typical way a project like this is handled would be to demo the bridge, which is what makes this so unique. Because what we're asking them to do, it would be the longest wildlife crossing in the world," Hughes said.

The project was first publicly proposed in March 2021, and Rep. McCombie said she's been impressed.

"(I) thought how thoughtful of an idea to be able to recycle and reuse all of this structure," she said. "Just the idea that we're going to have something so unique to the Quad City area was the first thing I was like, 'Oh my gosh, that is so cool.'"

She believes it will also bring tourists to the Quad Cities while saving taxpayers some money.

"People, I think, will come from all over not only just the Midwest, but I think from all over the world to see this treasure, if we can make this happen," McCombie said. "It's gonna save taxpayers roughly $30 million by not demoing the bridge."

About 38,000 people have signed a petition in support of the Bison Bridge.

Hughes said the Bison Bridge Foundation will continue to garner public support ahead of potential IDOT public input meetings on the bridge project in the fall.

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