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Two Projects in Iowa Win Regional America’s Transportation Awards

by: Jessica Hoover
The Memorial Bridge (Interstate 74 Mississippi River Crossing)
The Memorial Bridge (Interstate 74 Mississippi River Crossing)
Council Bluffs Interstate System Dual, Divided Freeway
Council Bluffs Interstate System Dual, Divided Freeway
Two Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT) projects won regional awards in the 2022 America’s Transportation Awards competition, sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes state DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Operations Excellence, Best Use of Technology & Innovation, and Quality of Life/Community Development.

“State DOTs are overwhelmingly focused on innovative solutions to address the transportation issues of today and tomorrow, meeting challenges involving climate change, equity, resiliency, and safety,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “The America’s Transportation Awards program shows just how they’re doing that. Whether on foot, in a vehicle, on two wheels, or by rail or transit, state DOTs are continuing to advance a safe, multimodal transportation system.”

Eighteen projects in the Mid America Association of State Transportation Officials (MAASTO) region were nominated by eight states for this year’s competition. The following two projects in the Midwest Contractor area were winners of the regional America’s Transportation Awards.

The Memorial Bridge (Interstate 74 Mississippi River Crossing) (Quality of Life/Community Development, Large Category)
This project won in the Quality of Life/Community Development category, which honors projects that better connect people to businesses, jobs, health care facilities, and recreational activities while encouraging a mix of transportation modes. Led by Iowa DOT, in coordination with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration, the Memorial Bridge connects the states of Iowa and Illinois while significantly improving operations, capacity, safety, and travel times in the Quad Cities.

“I-74 over the Mississippi River is an important east-west link in the nation’s transportation network, carrying more than 45 percent of all traffic in the Quad Cities,” said Ahmad M. Afifeh, PE, Iowa DOT's I-74 Project Manager. “The 86-year-old bridge was narrow, lacked shoulders, and carried nearly double the amount of traffic it was built to accommodate, leading to major congestion and traffic delays. A new bridge was needed as part of a regional strategy to improve interstate travel. The growing region demanded not just any bridge, but a transformational asset that unifies the communities both symbolically and in other new, exciting ways. The new bridge brings travel on I-74 in the Quad Cities into the 21st century.”

The bridge has four lanes in each direction, a 14-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path with a scenic overlook, and connections to existing paths in Bettendorf, Iowa, and Moline, Illinois. The approximately $1-billion project includes twin river bridges, new interchanges, ramps, and local road reconfigurations.

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According to Afifeh, the bridge will attract new businesses, jobs, and opportunities, along with making the Quad Cities a tourism destination. Quad Cities leaders are currently planning new developments such as rooftop restaurants, skate parks, and shopping centers near Memorial Bridge.

“This project is one of the largest investments ever by both Iowa and Illinois, and the local and regional enthusiasm for the project has been incredible,” Afifeh said. “The success of the project was accomplished through vision and perseverance, and the unprecedented collaboration of our states and communities. We are very proud of the extensive coordination, cooperation, and teamwork between the states, local municipalities and organizations, transportation and environmental agencies, bridge designers, construction management specialists, inspections staff, and the contractors to make the new bridge a reality.”

Council Bluffs Interstate System Dual, Divided Freeway (Operations Excellence, Large Category)
This project won in the Operations Excellence category, which honors projects that demonstrate the ability to operate the existing transportation system as safely and efficiently as possible. The Council Bluffs Interstate System had previously not made any significant changes since its original construction in the 1960s. With 20,000 to 75,000 vehicles traveling on the corridor each day and an expected increase to more than 130,000 a day by 2030, Iowa DOT saw the need to construct a dual, divided freeway along the overlapping section of I-80/I-29 between the West System Interchange and East System Interchange.

“We wanted to make sure that we were building a sustainable system well into the future. In doing so, we came up with the concept of a dual, divided system,” said Scott Schram, Iowa DOT District Engineer. “We explored that idea and found that it would help us contain that sustainable system that we were trying to achieve.”

The $1-billion project constructed four separate roadways, two in each direction, that divide through traffic on I-80 from local traffic on I-29. This unique freeway configuration created I-80 Express lanes and I-29/I-80 Local lanes, which reduced crashes, congestion, and operational challenges. The project also included color changeable message signs, pavement marking interstate shields, and static signing for better wayfinding. According to Schram, there has been increased interest in development in the Council Bluffs area since the beginning of construction.

“It [this project] really helps investments in the local community,” Schram said. “We’ve seen areas of development that have really taken off. We’ve got the Mid-America Center, which is the original draw for large events. There’s athletic facilities, hotels, restaurants, and shopping. These developments didn’t really start taking off until after these improvements were either underway or committed to financially by [Iowa] DOT.”

Next Phase of the Competition
The three highest-scoring projects from each regional America’s Transportation Awards competition (a total of 12 projects) will continue on to compete for the national Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. Online voting for the People’s Choice Award has begun, and the 12 finalists were announced this month. The 12 finalists are as follows:
  • Caltrans: 360 Tours Program
  • Illinois DOT and Iowa DOT: The Memorial Bridge, Interstate 74 Mississippi River Crossing Project
  • All MAASTO States (nominated by Iowa DOT): Emergency Divisible Load Management Project
  • Minnesota DOT: Trunk Highway 61 Grand Marais Reconstruction Project
  • New Jersey DOT: Route 495, Route 1&9/Paterson Plank Road Bridge Project
  • New York DOT: State Route 5S and North Genesee Street Multi-Modal Safety and Connections Enhancements Project
  • Pennsylvania DOT: I-579 Urban Open Space Cap Project
  • South Carolina DOT: U.S. 21 over Harbor River Bridge Replacement Project
  • Tennessee DOT: Hernando de Soto Bridge Emergency Repairs Project
  • Texas DOT: U.S. 281 North Expansion, Segment 1 Project
  • Virginia DOT: Chatham Bridge Rehabilitation and Share Use Path Project
  • Washington State DOT: Active Transportation Plan 2020 and Beyond Project
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In October, AASHTO will reveal the winners for the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award at its 2022 Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida.

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