Bridge lights could return this evening

Friday, July 22, 2005

An electrical contractor is expected to finish installing two new transformers today.

Electricians began installing two new transformers Thursday in an effort to get the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge out of the dark.

If all goes right, the decorative lights on the Mississippi River bridge at Cape Girardeau could shine brightly as early as tonight, some three weeks after they went dark, said the project's contractor and Missouri Department of Transportation officials.

MoDOT traffic engineer Craig Compas said the new transformers will be turned on over the weekend to test the lighting operation. But it may be Monday before the decorative lights are permanently back in operation at night, he said.

Eastbound traffic was limited to one lane Thursday as a three-member crew from Cotner Electric of Cape Girardeau began installing the transformers inside two huge concrete piers on the east edge of the bridge.

Traffic is expected to be limited to one eastbound lane again today from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., MoDOT officials said.

MoDOT is spending $13,500 to get the lights back on.

The three custom-made transformers from a Montreal firm cost $3,100 each. Cotner Electric is installing two of the transformers at a cost of $4,200, Compas said.

The third transformer will be kept in reserve in case one of the other two burns out, MoDOT district engineer Mark Shelton said.

Each transformer has two and a half times the capacity of the previous transformers, MoDOT officials said. They weigh more, too. The previous transformers each weighed about 500 pounds. The new ones each weigh about 900 pounds, said electrical contractor Ron Cotner.

Shelton said MoDOT paid a higher price to buy the transformers in order to get the equipment delivered sooner.

"That probably gained us upwards of four to five days," Shelton said. "Our primary concern is to get the lights on."

The lights went out about three weeks ago, just before downtown's Libertyfest Fourth of July celebration. It was a third time the decorative lights had failed since January 2004.

The most recent outage and one last October were both blamed on blown transformers. The lights were turned off in March 2004 due to a problem with moisture seeping into the bulbs.

After consulting with engineers from AmerenUE earlier this month, MoDOT determined that the transformers were too small, so they kept burning out.

Cotner said transformers overheat when they can't handle the electrical load.

Once the lights are back on, MoDOT plans to consider trying to recover some of the expenses from the private consultant who designed the original lighting system.

"MoDOT did not design the system," Shelton said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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