Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Vincent Thomas Bridge is a vision at night.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 06/2007

It's not easy being blue.

For 42 years, the official welcoming monument to the City of Los Angeles disappeared at night--at least from a distance.

Opened in 1963, the Vincent Thomas Bridge presented a beautiful daytime sight to those visiting, living and working in the Los Angeles Harbor area. In darkness, however, the impact of the bridge’s picturesque spans and graceful curves was lost.

The local community was very aware of the bridge’s nighttime potential and, in 1987, formed the Vincent Thomas Bridge Lighting Committee. They thought it would be easy enough, just raise a few donations and flip the switch. Little did they know that the bridge would not light up the harbor skies for another 18 years!

The first obstacle was the California Coastal Commission’s concern that the lights would have a negative effect on a resident pair of Peregrine Falcons, an endangered species. They also objected to the disorientation the lights might cause to migratory birds. Another problem was the potential for sky-glow (light pollution). Last but not least was the matter of energy consumption.

Nothing if not persistent, the committee continued to work with Caltrans and local lighting design companies to explore new and creative design options, which ultimately led to the use of custom-designed blue Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights installed on the suspension cables and along the sides of the bridge deck.

The entire Harbor community rejoiced at a ceremony on January 30, 2005, when the switch finally was flipped and a star was born.

Last month, the Vincent Thomas Bridge lighting project achieved another milestone: it received an Excellence in Transportation Award in the category of The Environment. The competition, which includes nine categories, is sponsored by Caltrans annually to recognize excellence in transportation design, construction, traffic operations, maintenance, planning and improvements throughout California.

The project committee consisted of Caltrans District 7, Division of Environmental Planning, the Vincent Thomas Bridge Lighting Committee, the City of Los Angeles, the Bureau of Street Lighting and the Port of Los Angeles. The blue lights were chosen, the committee explained in its award application, because they stand out from the amber-colored lights and maritime navigation indicators in the harbor area, “making the bridge a landmark clearly visible from land, sea and air.”

Directional placement of the lights prevents them from disturbing the Peregrines roosting on the substructure of the bridge and also prevents light from shining upward, so the project doesn’t contribute to sky-glow or affect migratory birds flying overhead. LED bulbs consume minimal electricity and require infrequent changing, reducing the exposure of maintenance personnel to the risk of working below the bridge deck or on the bridge cables.

The initial cost of the project was just over $1 million, divided between Caltrans, the Port of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting, and the Vincent Thomas Bridge Lighting Committee. The City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power donated their expertise and materials. Although the initial cost seems somewhat high, ongoing costs are minimal due to the use of LED lighting and self-generated solar power. 

And, as the application states, “No price tag can be placed on the good will and community support generated by Caltrans’ involvement in this project.”






The Vincent Thomas Bridge also shines at dusk (photo courtesy of LEDTronics, designer and manufacturer of the bridge lights).