Coronado bridge: preview of it partially lit up in kaleidoscope of color


It’s been a long time coming, but the San Diego-Coronado Bridge got its first dress rehearsal this week for what will eventually be a multi-colored illumination of the two-mile-long span.

While much more study and testing is needed before the long-sought lighting project becomes reality, the first test of using LED lights to illuminate two of the bridge’s 30 pillars was deemed a success as a rainbow of colors bathed the bridge during the late night and early morning hours, said officials with the San Diego Unified Port District.

“We’re so excited we have passed this first milestone with the lights, which are maritime-rated, being tested successfully,” said Port Commissioner Marshall Merrifield. “The pixels are calibrated very precisely, and you have every gradation of the blue and red scales and so on, so you can have this enormous variety and different intensity.”

(Video courtesy: Port of San Diego)

The testing this week, over the course of five evenings, marked the first time that the lighting project moved from engineering to an on-the-ground application to make sure the desired illumination even works. Specifically, LED lighting from two manufacturers — Philips Color Kinetics and Lumenpulse — was used to simultaneously illuminate two bridge piers, located within a shipyard on the San Diego side of the bridge. No pillars in the water were tested.

Although the ambitious lighting project — estimated to cost $15 million — dates to 2006, it is only in the last couple of years that engineering work has intensified as backers try to raise money to finance it.

Part of the process is working with — and ultimately satisfying — three state agencies, which are the California Coastal Commission, the state Lands Commission and CalTrans, which owns the bridge. Still to come is an environmental impact report, which will look at potential effects on marine life and wildlife.

As part of the field test, one pillar was illuminated using 10 separate lamps, while the other had about half that many,

“We had never tested LED luminaires on the pillars before, and what we’ve been able to do over several nights is see how these lights can softly bathe the pillars,” explained Yvonne Wise, the port’s director of arts and activation. “And we wanted to see what happens when you shoot the light from the bottom and from the top.”

There will be more tests to come, including placing the lights on the pillars that support the bridge over the water. The 30 piers range in height from 50 feet to 200 feet. One of the next steps, aside from undertaking the environmental study, will be to have the engineering team and the port’s consultants identify a list of materials needed to light 30 pillars, including the lamps and the wiring. Once that is solidified, the port will issue a request to solicit companies able to furnish those materials, Merrifield said.

Later will come an over-water lighting test, subject to the approval of the state agencies, he added.

Although a design team for the Coronado bridge lighting project was chosen back in 2010, there was no real funding for it. Ultimately, a fundraising effort was launched, led by Merrifield. To date, he said, $1.2 million has been raised, and there is $2 million more in pledges. The estimated cost was initially $10 million but that has now risen to $15 million.

Once the lighting is in place, there might be the flexibility to program special light shows or coordinate the display with performances at the San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights performances on Embarcadero Marina Park South. Once all final approvals are granted, construction of the lighting could take four to six months to complete. Merrifeld thinks the full illumination of the bridge could be completed by 2022.

“Public art is the expression of a community soul, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to express San Diego and give a sense of who we are and what we stand for,” Merrifield said. “When a Navy ship passes through, we could do red white and blue, if we have a head of state, the colors of the flag could be on the bridge that night. This is an artistic lighting project as opposed to safety lighting.”