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Spanning the ages: Thousands celebrate the new I-74 bridges

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Public celebration of the new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River.

The "We Made It" theme for Wednesday's celebration of the near-opening of both I-74 bridge spans has been earned.

The project has spanned nearly 30 years of planning, more than $1 billion invested, then a polar vortex, record-breaking Mississippi River flooding, a derecho and a global pandemic.

We made it, indeed.

Countless Quad-City leaders have had a hand in the decades of planning for the new crossings and at least one, Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn, has been a part of most of it.

Public celebration of the new I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River.

"I'm excited," he said as he stood under the already-iconic arches of the new eastbound span. "I'm euphoric."

A 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 held to the vision.

A red carpet was rolled out in front of the stage, and it held 20 sets of gold-handled scissors, which were 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.

A quip about having even survived the zipper merge drew laughs from a crowd already giddy with excitement and relief.

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 are likely to deliver.

Union carpenter Sam Huff, the Interstate 74 bridge senior superintendent, talks about the construction of the bridge and how proud he is of the finished product.

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 so many 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.

Local videographer Brad Isbell uses a 360-degree camera strapped to his back to record the I-74 bridge celebration for history and Google Street View.

Several of the speakers returned to the stage for the afternoon's public celebration.

While about 2,000 people signed up online as attendees, estimates indicated at least 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 placed at driving-deck level on either side, and hundreds of people stopped along the half-mile stretch between River Drive and the eastbound arch to take cell-phone pictures.

Some danced and sang. Some stood still long enough to take in long looks at the arches above. They posed for each other's pictures and sang together softly to "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In other words: We Made It.

Photos: The building of the I-74 Bridge

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Iowa and Illinois Department of Transportation officials released these new images of I-74 bridge construction scheduled through 2021.

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Images from the ongoing construction of the new I-74 bridge construction over the Mississippi River between Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois.

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Crews in Bettendorf, Iowa, Moline, Illinois and on the river work on the new bridge over the Mississippi River in Bettendorf, Iowa Wednesday S…

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A tow boat moves an empty barge into position next to an excavator on the Mississippi River near the site of a new bridge east of the current …

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Crews with Lunda Construction Co. work on a barge on the Mississippi River at the site of the replacement for the I-74 bridge in Bettendorf, I…

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Workers at the site of a new bridge over the Mississippi River near the twin spans of the I-74 bridge in Bettendorf, Iowa Thursday September 2…

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Work continues on the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River as well as in the river, Friday, September 29, 2017, as the new I-74 br…

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Work continues on the construction of the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, October 4, 2017, in Bettendorf, in Moline and in the Mississippi River.

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Construction continues on the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, October 11, 2017, in Bettendorf, in Moline and in the Mississippi River.

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Construction on the new I-74 bridge between Moline and Bettendorf and on the Mississippi River continues, Friday, October 13, 2017, as workers…

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Work continues, Tuesday, October 17, 2017, on the new I-74 bridge in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Construction continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, October 24, 2017, in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Construction continues on the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, October 25, 2017, in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Workers are at the site of a new bridge that will replace the twin spans of the I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River in Bettendorf, Iowa Mon…

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, October 31, 2017, on the Bettendorf side of the river.

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Construction continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, November 7, 2017, in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on a new bridge just east of the twin spams of the I-74 Bridge over the Mississippi River in Bettendorf, Iowa Friday November 1…

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, November 28, 2017, in the Mississippi River and on the Bettendorf side.

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Workers install a casing for pier 16, the last one North of the Mississippi River, for the new I-74 bridge in Bettendorf, Iowa Thursday Novemb…

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge spanning the Mississippi River between Bettendorf and Moline, Wednesday, December 6, 2017, even as the c…

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Mud is removed from a hole at the site of a new bridge over the Mississippi River by a drill attached to an excavator for the installation of …

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, December 12, 2017, in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge project, Monday, January 15, 2018, on the Bettendorf side, the Moline side and on the Mississippi River …

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Thursday, January 25, 2018, on the Moline and Bettendorf side's, and in the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Friday, February 2, 2018, in Bettendorf, Moline, and on the Mississippi River.

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The first two I-beams for the superstructure of the new I-74 bridge were laid in place, Monday, March 19, 2018, on the Bettendorf side of the …

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Check out the latest on the construction of the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, May 2, 2018, in Bettendorf, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Tuesday, July 3, 2018, in Bettendorf, Moline, and on the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, July 18, 2018, on the Bettendorf side and in the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge as the base of the arch is starting to take shape, Thursday, August 16, 2018, on the Bettendorf side of …

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Passengers on the MetroLink Channel Cat enjoy the "Building a Bridge for the Future: The I-74 Mississippi River Bridge Project" presentation b…

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Work on the new I-74 bridge continues as River Drive in Moline was shut down to hoist large I-beams into place, Monday, September 10, 2018. Wo…

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Interstate 74 bridge construction update 09-16-2018. 

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, September 26, 2018, in Bettendorf, Moline and in the Mississippi River.

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Continuing construction work on the new Interstate 74 bridge between Moline, Illinois and Bettendorf, Iowa.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge, October 25, 2018, in both Bettendof, Moline and on the Mississippi River.

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Work continues on the new I-74 bridge on the Mississippi River between Bettendorf and Moline Monday, November12, 2018. Eight segments of the n…

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Quad-City iron workers building new I-74 bridge.

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Work continues around the anchors for the arches on the new Interstate 74 bridge Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Milling and painting of the westbound…

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Construction continues on both sides of the Mississippi River on the new I-74 bridge, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, as completion is scheduled for 2020.

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I-74 bridge workers get in the fall spirit with a pumpkin decoration hanging from a piece of machinery, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Bettendorf.

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Four additional segments of arch for the new westbound Interstate 74 bridge are staged on barges at the construction site Thursday, Nov. 21, 2…

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The I-74 bridge and the 73,000-square-foot YMCA in downtown Davenport are among the new big projects being worked on in the area. 

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Iowa-bound I-74 bridge expected to open by end of month.

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Installing sign standards on new Interstate 74 bridge Iowa bound.

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While construction workers installed another steel girder for the new Interstate 74 bridge in the background officials held a press conference…

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