Is the cable bridge ready for the spotlight? Boosters say yes

A well-connected Tri-City trio is building support to give the iconic cable bridge a glittery update.

Karen Miller, Kathy Lampson and Deb Culverhouse want to replace the sodium vapor lights that illuminate the cables with programmable LED ones that change color with a few taps on a computer.

“Simply put, our lights are totally outdated,” Miller told the Port of Kennewick commission in January. It was one of a series of presentations the women have made around the community as they work to build support for what could be a costly update – $2 million or more.

The port’s commissioners praised the idea but have taken no steps to give it formal or financial support. Still, the port has a vested interest. The cable bridge looms over Clover Island, its home and prized property.

The cable bridge, formally the Ed Hendler Bridge, opened in 1978, a joint venture of the cities of Kennewick and Pasco. Today, it is owned and operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The 144 sodium vapor lights that illuminate the cables were added in 1996. They are dramatic, but old school. To change the color, technicians must bolt colored glass discs over each light fixture.

The first time that happened was in September 2013, when Ovarian Cancer Together turned the bridge teal for an awareness campaign.

Karen Miller pushed the project in honor of her mother, Cathy Morris, who was fighting ovarian cancer. Her mother had seen a similar effort in Minneapolis and wanted to replicate it in the Tri-Cities.

It wasn’t cheap. It cost $5,000 to cover all the lights, to staff a crew to close a lane on the bridge while the work was being completed and to position two men in a rescue boat below – just in case.

HAPO Community Credit Union and other donors provided financial support, leading to the lights being teal blue each September though 2017.

The awareness campaign attracted interest from Deb Culverhouse of Domestic Violence Services, but the cost was too steep for a nonprofit to justify.

Together with Lampson, the women teamed up to find a modern, less expensive way to light the bridge for special occasions. They found inspiration in Portland.

Portland’s Tilikum Crossing, a similarly cable-stayed bridge, opened in 2015, spanning the Willamette River. Tilikum and its neighbors have modern light systems. The city stages a popular annual festival to show them off.

The Tri-Cities could do something similar with its bevy of bridges, they concluded.

Programmable LED lights could turn the cable bridge into a lively backdrop not just for cancer awareness and other worthy causes, but for any special occasion – high school homecomings, civic celebrations, holidays and more.

“This will be a phenomenal opportunity to highlight the area,” Lampson, a marketing executive, told the Kennewick port.

The cable bridge, originally called the Intercity Bridge, replaced the narrow and rickety green bridge that once linked Pasco and Kennewick. The soaring structure instantly became the region’s defining structure. It was the first major cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. and won national acclaim.

DOT rules don’t prohibit lights, but state law sets strict rules on anything that might distract motorists or other bridge users. Lights can’t create glare or be aimed across or into the roadway. They can’t interfere with bridge users and sponsors would not be allowed to advertise on the bridge under the Scenic Vista Act.

But with community support, Lampson, Miller and Culverhouse say they will pursue grants and other funding.

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