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Driving You Crazy: Why aren't the lights on the 6th Avenue light rail bridge turned on anymore?

The lights have been off for nearly five years
Posted at 8:33 AM, Mar 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-15 12:35:21-04

David from Golden writes, “What's driving you crazy? The light rail bridge over 6th Ave at Sims/Union had LED lights all over it when it was first installed. Why are they not turned on any more?”

David, RTD is just as disappointed the lights are not working as you are. I think the lights on the 6th Ave light rail bridge, when they were working, looked spectacular. It really made a statement on one of the signature structures along the W light rail line. RTD called that weathered steel bridge the feature bridge of the West Corridor.

The original company hired to provide the LED lights for the bridge, Barron Lighting Group, touted the project on their website as one of their major accomplishments saying, “From conception to completion, over the course of almost two years, this project required intricate design, timing and precision.” Barron supplied the electrical contractor working on the 6th Ave light rail bridge with nearly 2,000 feet of specially designed white LED flexible border tube. The contractor attached the tubes to the 44 support cables on the bridge giving each of the cables a brilliant outline that could be seen from downtown Denver. According to the original RTD FasTracks report, these LED light tubes were rated for 100,000 hours of life. That should have allowed the lights to be on 12 hours a day, every day of the year for over 22 years or be left on all day, every day for nearly eleven years. Instead, unforeseen problems allowed the lights to stay illuminated only for a few months.

Engineers with RTD conducted an investigation into the problem with the lights and eventually determined there was no singular cause of failure but several possibilities. Alan Tracy, President and Owner of Barron Lighting Group said the root of the lighting problems had nothing to do with their product. “One of the problems being massive static electricity on that bridge that was causing havoc, I think for all of the electrical products on and around the bridge. The other big thing, there was not much account for the way the products were installed and the vibration conditions.”

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And Tracy believes it could have been that vibration from every train that rolled over the bridge that made the connector system the weak link between the LED lights and the power supply. Tracy suggests another issue could have been how, and where, the power connectors were installed and what kind of strain relief was provided by the electrical contractor to keep the connections from separating over time.

After multiple failed attempts to fix the underlying vibration, static electricity and other problems, a frustrated RTD says it was time to cut bait. “We’ve had ongoing issues with the lighting system on that bridge for five-plus years and we’ve just moved on to another solution,” said Michelle Brier, Public Relations Specialist for RTD.

That solution starts with taking down the light tubes and electrical connectors and replacing them with strategically placed flood lights off the bridge that can change colors. The flood light fix would then allow RTD to program the lights to highlight or feature special events like making the bridge pink for Breast Cancer Awareness or green for St. Patrick’s Day.

“It was very frustrating," said Tracy. "This was one of the biggest bragging rights projects in our company’s history. We even stepped up outside of warranty to help these guys because it was something that we were very, very proud of.”

“The lights are very important to us and we have heard from riders about it and that is what has led us to find another solution,” Brier said. “However, at this point, there is no identified funding in the RTD budget to move forward with this solution.”

RTD told me they don’t have a time frame at this point when the lighting fix would be made saying once they identify new funding, they will get to work on installing and turning on the new lights.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play , Podbean or YouTube .

Note: This story was updated reflecting new information from Barron Lighting Group.