816 North

Broadway Bridge lights will (finally) shine again, city says

Updated: 2013-10-16T02:19:02Z

By ROXIE HAMMILL

Special to The Star

Remember the Broadway Bridge lights? The decorative, color-changing lights that were supposed to illuminate the pillars at the north and south ends of the bridge? The ones that haven’t worked right for the better part of six or seven years?

Well, they’re coming back, possibly by the end of this month, say Kansas City officials.

The city is having another go this fall with a light system that has worked only briefly since it was installed in 2005. If all goes well, the pillars should be lit up with a changing color pattern in time for the holidays, said Sean Demory, public information officer for the city’s Public Works Department.

The Broadway Bridge lights have been a continuing source of curiosity for drivers commuting across the river.

They were installed in 2005 at a cost of $2 million, with money coming from federal grants, North Kansas City, Kansas City and the Northland Community Foundation. The concept: Pillars standing just north and south of the bridge would reflect lighting that would also change colors with the seasons. The north pillars are at Broadway/U.S. 169 and Missouri 9 and the south ones stand near the bridge at Fifth Street. Along with some other improvements, they would dress up that part of town, making a grander entrance into the heart of the city from the Northland.

For a while, they worked. But then — and nobody knows exactly when — lightning struck.

Literally.

By 2006, The Kansas City Star’s Watchdog column began receiving queries about the lights. Where were the changing colors?

The answer: The pillars’ exposed location made them lightning rods of sorts, particularly the north one. Lightning struck more than once, damaging the fixtures and the power system several times, according to Mahmoud Hadjian, manager of street lighting services for Kansas City.

So the city had HNTB, the designers of the lighting set-up, come up with a lightning protection plan.

But then another delay came. The vendor stopped selling the system that changes the colors, so the city had to find someone else with a similar system to replace it.

The city is replacing all the original lights, which include 12 floodlights and 24 9-watt LEDs, plus related equipment. The lights are white, red, green and blue, but colors can be mixed through the programming.

Most of the work will be included in the annual maintenance budget for the system, which is $16,000. Reprogramming will cost $5,000 more. There’s a one-year warranty on new equipment, but those warranties typically don’t cover “acts of God,” such as lightning strikes, officials said.

Some regular drivers have noticed the malfunctioning lights for years. Amy Newport, who drives across every day from her home in the Little Village neighborhood of Kansas City to her job in Lenexa, wondered about the absence of lights three years ago. She said she’d be glad to see them up and running, but wondered why it took so long.

“It’s way past time to finally be doing something about that,” she said. “It will certainly be better than what we’ve got now.”

But Susan Tuncten, who lives just north of the bridge in the Briarcliff area and drives every day to her job at the Pembroke Ward Parkway campus, is more skeptical. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said of the repairs. “I love it when it works, but I think it’s a lost cause.”

The pillars make a nice entrance to the city for people coming in from the airport, Tuncten said. But “I almost think we’d be better off with just the floodlights on,” instead of the changing colors.

City Council member Jan Marcason, whose district includes the area, said the trouble with the lights illustrates the need for some centralized city department to oversee maintenance on projects funded by the One Percent for Art program. The program sets aside a part of new construction costs to fund public art.

“When we do these one-percent-for-art projects we have to be sure we have some funding in a maintenance account,” Marcason said. “You can’t just build something and expect it to last forever.”

Still, Marcason said, “I think they should have been working from the very beginning.”

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