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Editorial: Bridge lights make for welcoming community

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Approximately 75 local residents and hundreds of motorists were treated to a light show Tuesday evening on the Second Street bridge.

In a sequential fashion the framework of the iconic entrance to Columbus’ downtown was bathed in a series of colorful shades — red, blue, orange, white, pink and purple — each delighting the crowd of onlookers gathered for the inaugural lighting and probably surprising motorists who were crossing the span at the time.

While the ceremony was meaningful, the real import of the lighting is that it will be a permanent feature on the city’s skyline, giving yet another unique aspect to Columbus’ built environment.

The sequential light show (colors are scheduled to change minute by minute) will be in operation for the next few days, eventually changing to a single color scheme (white). The coloring will be changed to reflect certain holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day or for special occasions such as an achievement by representatives of the city’s two high schools, East (orange) and North (blue).

The lighting represents much more than eye candy for users of the Second Street bridge. In some respects it is a personal commitment by city leaders to again affirm the special relationship residents have with the unique structure.

Although the bridge was only one of a number of major elements in the mammoth Front Door project that was designed to enhance the western entrance to the city, it came to be viewed by many as the cornerstone piece.

On the weekend before it was opened to vehicular traffic in 1999, city officials and Milestone Contractors hosted a “Walk on the Bridge” party in which residents celebrated in the middle of the span. That vantage offered them the view by which the bridge would become famous. Framed in the span was the equally iconic Bartholomew County Courthouse.

The juxtaposition of the 19th century courthouse in between the cables of the late 20th century bridge served as a link joining residents to both structures in a spirit of ownership.

Tuesday night’s ceremony should more correctly be referred to as a “relighting.” When the bridge was first opened in 1999, the upper framework was bathed in a glow from large spotlights placed next to a pedestrian walkway on the west side of the span.

Sadly, that placement proved too tempting to vandals. Within two years all of the lights were rendered useless by a mindless wave of destruction.

The bridge remained dark at night through the next decade until the situation was brought to the attention of Mayor Kristen Brown through an article in The Republic. She and City Engineer David Hayward teamed up to find funding and explore measures that would not only restore the lights to the bridge but make them less vulnerable to attack by vandals.

Funding for the installation was provided by the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, drawing on tax increment financing assets. That source was an apt choice given that many of the businesses that were in the TIF district were directly affected by the overall Front Door project.

The installation was done with an eye to protecting the lights and utilizing 21st century technology to save money and capitalize on the visual effect. The system is expected to cost just $200 a year, and the LED lights have a life expectancy of 12 years. The lights are mounted on tall poles that should be out of the reach of would-be vandals.

While the initial installation cost of $135,000 is significant, the return can be much greater, especially in the emotional value of having this community treasure showcased in brilliant colors.

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