DOT planning for Dubuque bridge replacement in next 20 years

How to comment

The public can review and comment on the 2022 Iowa statewide long-range transportation plan.

Those interested can review and submit comments at; send them to Iowa DOT, Systems Planning Bureau, 800 Lincoln Way, Ames, Iowa 50010; call 515-239-1520 or email

The deadline to respond is April 7.

Iowa transportation officials say the bridge connecting Dubuque and East Dubuque, Ill., likely will need to be replaced in the next 20 years, but few specifics about that project have been established yet.

The replacement of the Julien Dubuque Bridge is one of 10 major bridge projects listed in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s draft 2022 long-range transportation plan that officials say will require special planning in the next two decades due to their financial impact and coordination needs. State officials are accepting public comments on the plan until April 7.

“We would love to see that bridge replaced at some point,” said Bob Schiesl, assistant city engineer for the City of Dubuque.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge opened with little fanfare on Aug. 30, 1943. A Telegraph Herald story the following day stated that “war conditions” permitted “only simple ceremonies. The final price tag for construction came in at $3,175,341.63. With inflation, that figure would be around $46 million in 2018.

When built, the 845-foot main span was the second longest over the Mississippi River, fourth longest in the U.S. and eighth longest in the world, according to the Iowa DOT.

“I think we’re going to (address the bridge) — it’s just a matter of when,” said Sam Shea, district transportation planner for the Iowa DOT.

The Iowa agency shares responsibility for the bridge with the Illinois Department of Transportation, but Illinois DOT Public Information Officer Maria Castaneda said in an email that Iowa is the lead agency for the structure.

Shea said the focus has shifted to other bridge projects.

“Fifteen years ago, we had a preliminary design for an additional bridge, and we had bought quite a bit of right of way,” Shea said.

The plan called for Iowa and Illinois to split the costs of a $330 million bridge. Both the new span and the existing one would have combined to create a four-lane river crossing connecting the two states. But the necessary funding was never made available, and the proposed bridge project for Dubuque has slipped down the list of Mississippi River priorities for transportation officials in both states.

Other Iowa-Illinois projects, such as the Interstate 80 and U.S. 67 bridges, likely will come before a Dubuque project.

“As time passed, we never got back to building that (Dubuque) bridge,” Shea said.

Funding remains a key component to when the bridge project might be tackled. The most recent cost estimate for the project still was $330 million, though Shea said that costs might be higher in the future.

“More likely, as the Julien Dubuque Bridge ages, we’ll get to a point when it makes more sense to build a whole new bridge,” Shea said.

Schiesl said that when a bridge project finally happens, the cities of Dubuque and East Dubuque would work closely with the states, considering local traffic impacts.

According to the Illinois DOT bridge report, during the Julien Dubuque Bridge’s last inspection in October, the deck was in good condition with some minor problems and the superstructure and substructure was in satisfactory condition with minor deterioration.

The bridge was originally built in 1943, with the last extensive renovation occurring in 1991, when transportation officials closed it for about nine months for a $13.4 million renovation project.

Shea said the bridge is in good condition when compared to other bridges.

“For its age, it is a surprisingly well-built bridge,” he said. “It has proven to be very durable over the years.”