Clearwater Memorial Causeway

The Clearwater Memorial Causeway is shown in the backdrop of the Sea Blues Festival at Coachman Park.

CLEARWATER — This city will follow the examples of Miami, Tampa, and other cities around the nation who light up their causeways and bridges with violet, yellow, green, or another light-emitting diode (LED) color.

The lights can be operated via software that can cycle dashes of red, blue, white and other colors in thousands of combinations. The lights can flash like lightning, roll along in a slow clip, or simply, stay lit like a static light bulb.

Assistant City Manager Michael Delk, who oversees the $64 million re-engineering of downtown known as Imagine Clearwater, believes the artful lighting of the Clearwater Memorial Causeway will add vibrancy to the skyline of downtown Clearwater and provide a bright elevated line of light above the Intracoastal Waterway from downtown to the beach.

It will take until at least next year before the bridge is lighted like a Picasso, however. A private engineering firm is now designing possible LED configurations, but approval must be obtained at several levels.

“Coordination is occurring with regard to lighting controls and mounting locations under the bridge,” he said. “We are reviewing a variety of examples and other bridges with lighting to ensure appropriate design.”

The Memorial Causeway Dynamic LED Lighting Project began as a concept in 2014, when it was recommended in an Urban Land Institute’s suggestions for redesigning the city’s downtown and underdeveloped areas, Delk said.

H.W. Lochner, a Tampa engineering company, is coming up with design options for the lighting using architectural drawings of the bridge provided by the Clearwater Engineering Department.

The city will then review those options.

According to Delk, the City Council will either approve the plans or send them back to Lochner for changes. Once the council OKs the project, the city must then apply to the Florida Department of Transportation. The DOT can take up to six months to approve projects, Delk said.

When finished, the bridge could be lighted with red, blue, white, and a range of other shades and hues designers finally choose.

The 2,540-foot long memorial causeway bridge flies more than 70 feet above Coachman Park, the centerpiece of Imagine Clearwater. Plans call for the 66-acre waterfront property below the bridge to be redesigned into a single, large landscaped piece, with walking trails, ponds, and other features. It will include a large, outdoor amphitheater for big-name entertainers.

Clearwater certainly won’t be the first west Florida city to adopt colorful nights.

Tampa has made much fanfare of its lighted bridge program, which is sponsored in part by Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas and the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

According to Tampa’s city website, Tampagov.net, the city hired local artists to design their lighting.

Five bridges in the heart of downtown were initially lit in 2012 by artist Tracey Dear, and most recently, the Fortune Taylor Bridge (formerly the Laurel Street Bridge) received permanent lighting by local artist Chris Jones, the city said. “On one bridge, color kinetic light fixtures programmed by Jones cycle through a broad spectrum of color palettes and designs,” the website states.

Then, of course, there’s the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans the mouth of Tampa Bay. It has its colorful moments; in fact, the FDOT reported that it had just finished adding 1,800 colored LED light fixtures to the sky-scraping span.

The price of the Sunshine Skyway lighting project, which the FDOT said took years, came in at $15 million, the FDOT said.

As for Clearwater, it is still too early to determine cost.

Other bridge operators that have installed artistic lighting have experienced high maintenance costs; they recommend the path Clearwater is taking: LED lighting.

With its tough winters, Minnesota — whose Department of Transportation deployed non-LED lighting — saw aging electronic conduit fall from bridge structures, as well as broken light bulbs and circuits. The state switched to high-performance LED lighting technology for its low cost of upkeep.

LED luminaires — or LED lightbulbs — operate for 100,000 hours, equivalent to about 22 years of actual use, the Minnesota DOT reported. Not only that, but using high-performance luminaires create more light, at less cost. The efficiency translated into fewer lights — from reducing from 216 lightbulbs on a bridge to only 92 luminaires.

According to Delk, because the bridge crosses the Intracoastal, the U.S. Coast Guard also will review the lighting plan to ensure it doesn’t negatively affect boating traffic.