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Illuminating test: Tweaks needed after first I-65 lighting attempt

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It’s the gateway to the community — the twin-ribbed, steel arch bridge in the midst of Interstate 65 over State Road 46. And Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown wants it to shine, literally.

Unfortunately, a Tuesday night experiment fell short of City Engineer Dave Hayward’s expectations.

“We were a little disappointed,” Hayward said. “The lighting scheme that we had in mind and what we thought would work ... just didn’t work.”

Even so, a first was accomplished. No one had ever attempted to add lights to the structure. Hopefully, Hayward said, it won’t be the last attempt.

“We’re rethinking,” Hayward said. “Everybody involved is kind of looking at new options. We haven’t decided what the best options are.”

Because light does not bend, lighting a curved structure presents a challenge. The surroundings present a problem, too.

“There’s a lot more ambient lighting in the area than we realized,” Hayward said.

Hayward found the dark red arch and its dark gray cables difficult to light. And white light didn’t work nearly as well as yellow or magenta, he realized.

“We’d much rather be disappointed at this point,” he said, “when we don’t have much invested yet.”

The west side of Columbus was a major part of the Front Door project of the 1990s, intended to enhance the western entrance to the city.

Lighting the arch would cost an estimated $65,000 to $70,000, and it would be paid for with tax-increment financing funds.

“If we think it has a significant impact for a reasonable sum of money, that’s something I could see us doing going forward,” Brown said. “I do believe it’s worth investigating.”

Recent experiments by the city lighting the Second Street bridge were successful.

The Second Street bridge shone until the mid-2000s when some of the 42 road-level lights were vandalized. But with a different approach that changes the level of the lights, the city hopes to have the Second Street bridge lit by the end of the year.

“The tests came out so well. The lighting was so spectacular,” Brown said of the Second Street bridge.

Wednesday, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission chose the $130,600 quote from the James H. Drew Corp. to relight the Second Street bridge. The commission also approved an extra $5,000 to provide cushion for the project in case of extra costs.

The mayor has said tax-increment financing funds would be used to pay for the Second Street relighting.

Approval was contingent upon the project getting the final OK from the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. That approval was needed because some of the poles for lighting are in a floodway.

Hayward told the commission members that approval is expected soon, possibly by the middle of this month. That would mean the project could be completed around mid-December.

He also told the commission that because the bridge will be lit with LED lights, it will cost just $15 per month to light the bridge.

Despite the disappointment of Tuesday’s test out near the interstate, Hayward said he’s not giving up on that project.

“What we’re probably going to do is another mock (lighting),” Hayward said. “And we’ll probably build a little more flexibility so we can try a few different concepts.”

Another test lighting would be performed in about two weeks to a month, Hayward said.

Special Projects Editor Kirk Johannesen contributed to this story.

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