Special Reports

Bridge-light backers to lobby lawmakers

A group trying to permanently light both Tacoma Narrows bridges won’t ask Gig Harbor or other local governments for money, at least not soon.

Members of NarrowsBridgelights.org say the city will reap the benefits of illuminating both spans, but they first will tap state and federal governments for the $4 million they say is needed to install the lights. A previous state study pegged the cost at $4.8 million.

Desa Gese Conniff, one of the group’s leaders, asked the Gig Harbor City Council on Monday night to help lobby state and federal decision makers.

The group is trying to raise enough money to install energy-efficient lights on the cables of both spans after the temporary lights are taken down this year.

The group hasn’t made a proposal to the 2007 Legislature but has lobbied local lawmakers to help secure funding, including Reps. Larry Seaquist and Patricia Lantz and Sen. Derek Kilmer. All three are Gig Harbor Democrats.

Seaquist said there’s no bill or budget item drafted, but he will meet Sunday with residents in Gig Harbor to “lay out a plan of action.”

Conniff, a Tacoma attorney, said she didn’t know whether the group would ask local governments for a contribution if it doesn’t get state or federal help.

Tacoma Narrows Constructors installed temporary work lights on the new bridge’s cables two years ago. The display illuminates the night sky and can be seen from both sides of the water. The lights have been especially popular when workers have used festive colors for the holidays.

The NarrowsBridgelights.org group proposes installing energy-efficient LED light fixtures powered by solar panels at the ends of both bridges. The panels would collect more than enough power to light the bridges, supporters say.

Crews could control the lights from the ground. They could also change colors for light shows, community events and even as a communication tool for drivers and boaters.

Dick Kuykendall, a Gig Harbor resident pushing for the lights, told the Gig Harobr City Council that the illuminated bridges would be a source of civic pride.

He said most people associate the Tacoma Narrows with Galloping Gertie – the first bridge across the water that swayed violently before blowing apart in 1940. He said a lighted Tacoma Narrows bridge would be the South Sound equivalent to the Space Needle in Seattle – an icon and a tourism draw.

NarrowsBridgelights.org says it will present its plea for support to Tacoma, Pierce County and possibly other local governments that would benefit.

Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee said he’d be willing to draft an official resolution and even testify in support of the lights. But he doesn’t want to spend any Pierce County tax dollars.

Gig Harbor City Councilman Jim Franich said he’d rather see the group of light enthusiasts work on issues such as discounted tolls for drivers.

“To turn it into a tourist attraction doesn’t sit well with me,” he said Monday night.

Other critics have highlighted concerns ranging from light pollution to disrupting peregrine falcons and the shipping route below the bridges.

But Kuykendall said the group is determined to get the bridges lit.

“We’ll do that however we have to do it,” he said.

Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653