FORT MADISON, Iowa -- What one official called an "Andy Griffith thing" has led to aseries of talks about a new Mississippi River bridge here.
A group of eight local government and economic development leaders has met twice in an attempt to kindle interest in a federally funded highway bridge linking Iowa with Nauvoo, Ill. A $30 million temple is being constructed in Nauvoo by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Ken Upton, a Hancock County board member from Niota, Ill., said he has met twice with the group, which also includes Lee County supervisors Chairman Tracy Vance, Nauvoo Alderman John McCarty, Lee County Economic Development Corp. Director Jody Gunderson and Jim Noll, Fort Madison Bank and Trust Co. senior vice president.
Upton said talks started when McCarty and Noll struck up a conversation one day in a local bank. Phone calls were made, and a short time later the group met to talk about what would be necessary to promote a new bridge like the one spanning the river at Keokuk, Iowa.
Illinois officials have always been interested in a new bridge. But until recently, Upton said, there hasn't been similar interest on the Iowa side.
"It is in its very, very fledgling stages," Upton said.
Vance said nothing has been decided. Even if it had, the group doesn't have the money to do anything, he said.
"We're just exploring the idea right now," he said, adding there is a lot of enthusiasm for that exploration, however.
"I don't think too many people would argue we don't need a new bridge," he said.
Upton called the bridge currently linking Fort Madison with Illinois, a swing-span toll-bridge owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, "a dinosaur."
"At one time or another, everybody over here has been caught on that thing," he said.
U.S. Coast Guard plans call for replacement of the swinging section with a lift span. The span replacement would improve barge navigation, federal officials say.
But Upton said it would still leave his county with a drawbridge that frequently strands commuters trying to make it to work on time and costs them $1 each trip.
"I don't want to see my tax money go into a privately owned bridge for them to raise tolls on it," Upton said.
Lee County supervisor Matt Mohrfeld said the time is right to push for a new bridge.
Southeast Iowa officials going to Washington, D.C., later this year are planning to speak with U.S. Department of Transportation officials, he said, and a new bridge is a specific part of their agenda.
Upton said he will bring up the topic with Illinois Department of Transportation officials at a meeting in Carthage, Ill., next week. He said he will also offer a resolution at the next Hancock County Board meeting asking fellow board members to go on record supporting the proposed bridge.
A current project to widen Illinois 336 to four lanes from Quincy to Carthage will increase interest as people begin looking for ways to reach the new highway, he said.
At the soonest, a new bridge is at least a decade away.