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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2007

Skyway set for test run of high-tech light show in Toledo

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A test run of the lighting system for the bridge pylon, illustrated here, is to occur next week.
A test run of the lighting system for the bridge pylon, illustrated here, is to occur next week.
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For Independence Day, the internally lit pylon on the Veterans' Glass City Skyway will light up Toledo's night sky with red, white, and blue.

For St. Patrick's Day, the colors could be green, white, and orange.

And for the eve of the Ohio State-Michigan football game, maybe scarlet and gray on one side and maize and blue on the other?

The possibilities are almost endless.

And sometime next week, bridge-watchers will get a low-key sneak preview of the pylon's lighting system when technicians test it to make sure its light-emitting diode arrays and computer controllers work properly.

<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO1599743.GIF> View the <a href=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO18666510.GIF><b>Skyway animation</b></a> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO1599743.GIF> View the <a href=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/TO18666510.GIF><b>Skyway animation</b></a>
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While the test patterns will be nothing spectacular - just small sections of red, blue, and green, the primary colors of light - the system is capable of 16.7 million color combinations, said Mike Gramza, the project manager for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

"This thing is going to be a postcard for the city of Toledo," Mr. Gramza said. "It's going to be known around the world."

When activated, the lighting display will be unique.

"If someone copies it, that'll be the highest form of flattery," said Andrea Voogd, a spokesman for ODOT's district office in Bowling Green.

The bridge's light shows will be combinations of color shifts and vertical motion, the project manager said.

Except possibly during a May 24 gala celebration - before the bridge opens to traffic - the effects will be gradual, without any flashing, sparkling, or strobes, so the shows won't distract motorists, he said.

"The view for the community is going to be much better than for the motoring public," Mr. Gramza said. "There are several parks near the bridge that will have good views."

Exactly when the bridge will open remains to be determined.

Contractor Fru-Con Construction's last estimate for having the bridge ready for traffic was June 22, but Mr. Gramza and Ms. Voogd said that date is not a definite. It expects to set a formal opening date no closer than four weeks in advance.

"We're still working on all the finishing details," Mr. Gramza said. Among those are three expansion joints remaining to be installed, completion of parapet walls, cable tensioning, and grouting and sealing concrete.

In recent days, work crews have begun installing 32 3/4-square-foot, four-layer glass panels through which light from the system's 13,824 LEDs will shine and diffuse.

The panels weigh 450 pounds each and there will be 176 of them inlaid in the pylon - 41 on each of four faces plus 12 in the pylon's peak.

The panels start 70 feet above the roadway and extend up to the pylon's tip, 400 feet above the Maumee River.

After the panels' installation, the LED arrays are added from the inside.

The test lighting, Mr. Gramza said, likely will occur next week, with the exact schedule still uncertain. As of yesterday, he said, the computer that will control the system was being tested to make sure the LED arrays' electronic addresses were programmed properly.

The color shows themselves will all be preprogrammed, and doing so requires writing computer code at least for every LED array, if not for each individual diode, Mr. Gramza said.

The bridge's steel-sheathed stay cables also will be illuminated, but from the outside with white light shining from fixtures along the structure's deck.

That stay-cable lighting won't move or fluctuate in concert with the pylon shows and won't be installed until later this year after some cables that were found to have cracked plastic coatings are replaced, ODOT officials said.

Absent from the shows will be any letters or distinct shapes. Color patterns, chosen by a special subcommittee, will be based on seasonal, holiday, and event-driven themes and will be programmed and sequenced up to a year in advance.

The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, ODOT, the Lucas County Engineer's Office, the city of Toledo, and several neighborhood groups are all represented on the light-show subcommittee.

Programming for the shows is being done by Cross Light Inc., a Sunman, Ind., firm that does theatrical lighting effects, Mr. Gramza said.

Cross Light is a subcontractor for Fru-Con, so the price for its work is not known to ODOT officials, but $650,000 was budgeted for equipment, installation, and programming, he said.

The cost for operating the lighting system also hasn't been estimated, but Mr. Gramza said the LEDs are state-of-the-art equipment, with high energy efficiency and intensity and a predicted 22-year lifespan.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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