Lighter side of the bridge

Saturday, June 14, 2003

A dream to showcase the structure of the nearly finished Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge by adding 140 lights, envisioned by two Cape Girardeau residents over a decade ago, is finally becoming reality.

The project, which is spearheaded by the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce, allows people to sponsor lights that will be mounted on the bridge. Two large plaques will be visible on the western side of the bridge with names of donors and memorials offered by some.

Out of the 140 lights for sale, fewer than 20 are still available, said John Mehner, president and CEO of the chamber.

"If you are planning on buying a light, now is the time," Mehner said. "In less than three weeks they will all be gone."

The money raised through the lights will pay for about $110,000 of the total cost of the project, while the remainder, about $400,000, is coming from a federal enhancement grant.

In addition to the lighting project, the chamber is also offering prints of an artist's rendition of the completed bridge to help reach the campaign's goal of 20 percent local funding. The prints are selling for $200 each, and when the project is completed the paintings are expected to raise $15,000 to $20,000, said Nelson Ringer, co-planner of the project and member of the chamber of commerce beautification committee.

Ringer, an ophthalmologist, and John Layton, a lawyer, introduced the lighting idea to the chamber in 1993. But they had talked about it for years before that. It's been their dream, Ringer said.

Light bulbs on bridge

Large, 1,000-watt lights will illuminate the 300-foot towers, which now dominate Cape Girardeau's skyline. Smaller 400-watt bulbs will be base-mounted on the side of the bridge to shine upward, illuminating the 128 cables sustaining the bridge. The chamber is requesting donations of $2,500 for the larger lights and $250 for the smaller ones.

After the final light has been sold, Mehner said there may be more than enough money to meet the 20 percent goal.

"Any extra money we receive will most likely be used for maintenance of the lighting," Mehner said.

Buying into success

Some people opted to buy a light to pay tribute to someone, but others, like Stan Grimm of Cape Girardeau, simply wanted to help ensure the undertaking was a success.

"I knew the only way this project was going to be successful was if people like me bought a light," Grimm said. "I've watched with amazement while they have constructed the bridge. The lights are going to make it a really neat entryway into Cape Girardeau."

Because of the strategic placement of the lights, vehicles driving on the bridge will not be distracted by the attraction, Ringer said.

In an effort to reduce utility costs, the lights will be set to a timer that will shut them off during late-night hours, Mehner said. Although the timing has not yet been determined, Mehner thought the lights would go off around 1 a.m. The chamber is in discussions with the Missouri Department of Transportation about who will pay the electricity bill for the lighting, Mehner said. Maintenance will be MoDOT's responsibility.

In addition, some boats navigating down the Mississippi River will have the ability to turn off the lights by remote to avoid glares that could cause accidents, he said. Only towboats and other large, commercial boats will be able to do this.

The bridge should be ready for traffic by the end of this year. However, the lighting is not expected to be finished until April 2004 because installation will come after bridge construction is complete, MoDOT officials said.

335-6611, extension 127

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