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Second Street Bridge once again lights way into Columbus

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The Second Street Bridge, a city landmark that’s been dark for more than 10 years, flared back into light Tuesday night, drawing applause and admiration from

observers who turned out for a

ceremony marking the occasion.

Two local students flipped the switch to ignite the lights. Megan Holl and Ena Hopkins were among winners of the mayor’s Christmas greeting card contest, which used the bridge as a theme.

The LED lights slowly brightened to life, casting a white glow on the cables and legs of the bridge, before fading to pink and then bright red minutes later.

Front and center at the lighting ceremony were Erich and Marlene Miller, of Columbus, along with their 8-year-old daughter, Karissa, and her friend, 9-year-old Reagan Ables. They were among 75 people who attended the ceremony.

“We were actually on the bridge when it was built,” Erich Miller said. “We came for the grand opening (in 1999). It was sort of a flashback.”

Marlene Miller said she liked the idea of the changing color schemes.

Mayor Kristen Brown, who came up with $135,600 in funding for the project and organized the ceremony, said the bridge lights will cycle through a seven-minute program of colors for the next few days before settling on white.

For holidays and special events the colors will be changed. The colors might turn blue or orange for local sports teams, for example.

Erin Hawkins, director of marketing at Columbus Area Visitors Center, said she feels so strongly about the Second Street Bridge that she directs visitors to enter the city on State Road 46 so they can experience the way it frames downtown.

Based on visitors’ comments, the bridge has become an icon despite its relatively young age compared to other architectural marvels in Columbus, Hawkins said. She believes the lights once again will enhance its status.

“It makes a major impact to those entering downtown ... that this is a different kind of community,” Hawkins said. “I think it sends the message that we take design very seriously.”

Relighting the bridge speaks to the community’s “high standards of excellence,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said the Visitors Center likely will work new photos of the bridge into its marketing materials as photos become available.

Rich Stenner was director of Columbus 2000, a nonprofit group that helped coordinate activities related to the Front Door Project, an effort to spruce up the entrance to the city from Interstate 65.

Stenner said the view from the bridge was the main focus of the design, as it was constructed to frame the Bartholomew County Courthouse. He said its distinctive design was a bonus.

“I see the shape and the silhouette represented in a lot of different venues across the community as a way to represent Columbus,” Stenner said.

Stenner took part in the testing of the bridge lights last year and noticed that the view of the lit bridge from the Third Street Bridge, just upriver, was particularly striking.

Stenner said the lighted bridge will provide “wonderful viewscapes.”

Buck Ritz, business development representative for Milestone Contractors, was general contractor on the bridge project when it was built in 1998 and opened in 1999.

Ritz said the bridge, which was designed by J. Muller International of Chicago, brought its own construction challenges, mainly because it was built in the middle of the river and because of the angle of the caissons that hold up the bridge.

Like Erich Miller, Ritz has fond memories of attending the opening ceremonies, when the bridge was used as a site for a community party before it opened for traffic.

Ritz said he was disappointed vandals destroyed the original lights about 10 years ago.

“(The lights) are there to enhance the beauty of the structure,” Ritz said. “When something like that is vandalized, it is just very disappointing.”

The new bridge lights are installed at the corners of the bridge on poles high enough to foil potential vandals, city officials said.

City Engineer David Hayward said the city also replaced the standard streetlights on the bridge with white LED lights to improve energy efficiency and match up better with the new lighting scheme. The bulbs on the superstructure lights are expected to last 11 to 12 years and cost only about $200 a year to operate, he said.

Brown gave credit for the bridge relighting idea to Harry McCawley, associate editor of The Republic, who wrote a column about the dark bridge in May.

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