Bison Bridge Spanning the Mississippi River in IL and IA? An Idea Crazy Enough to Work

Joseph Puetz | | BrainsBrains
Mississippi River, bison bridge,
Rendering of the Bison Bridge. PC:

The Interstate 80 bridge crossing the Mississippi River near the Quad Cities sees 36,000 cars daily, and will soon need to be replaced. The Quad Cities is comprised of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois. Instead of tearing down the bridge that connects the two states, a bold plan to repurpose the bridge into a grazing area for bison has been proposed. Chad Pregracke, a Quad City native, plans to use the westbound lane as the grazing prairie for bison and the eastbound lane as a pedestrian path. On both sides of the bridge would be 100 acres for the bison to freely graze.

Chad Pregracke, who also founded Living Lands and Waters, has been waiting for a decade for the opportunity to put this plan into action. The idea is still in the planning phase, as the United States, Iowa, Illinois Departments of Transportation need to be convinced to build a new bridge that allows for the project. Construction is planned to begin in 2026, and support is needed to convince these administrations that it is a worthwhile investment. The end goal is to obtain national park status for the pedestrian and bison bridge as well as the 100 acres on both sides of the bridge.

But why utilize this bridge for bison? For centuries, bison were an integral part of the ecosystem roaming from Canada to Mexico. It is a species that which many other species depend. Yet during the 20th century, the American Bison was all but extinct. There are currently between 15,000 to 30,000 wild bison in the U.S. Efforts to regrow native plant life are happening across the country, and introducing bison to this area will aid in the effort of adding more prairie land. It should be said that Native American tribes are often at the forefront of reintroducing the American Bison to its natural habitat as well as many other groups.

Mississippi River, bison bridge
Rendering of pedestrian space on the bridge. PC:

Repurposing the bridge in this way would save taxpayers nearly 20 million dollars in demolition costs. The Bison Bridge Foundation is just one example across the country of repurposing old infrastructure. Many metropolitan areas are turning old railways into trail space in an effort to bring people outdoors. It seems that the American public is looking for more ways to connect with nature, and this is another way to help people understand the importance of natural spaces.

Mississippi River, bison bridge
Current I-80 bridge. PC: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

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