A brighter future lies ahead for the Peace Bridge, at least at night.
Dramatic new lighting soon will illuminate the 1927 steel arch bridge across the Niagara River.
"What we're going to do is a total relighting of the bridge," said Ron Rienas, the general manager of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, which operates the Peace Bridge.
Some 300 new light fixtures could be installed before Christmas, he said.
The authority hopes to accomplish three goals with the new lighting: save money, provide better lighting for security and make the bridge look better.
The new fixtures will replace the 10 flood lights, attached to piers, that now illuminate the bridge.
For a decade, most of the news about the Peace Bridge has been about the twists and turns during the long-delayed effort to build a new span.
Bridge officials hope the $1.2 million project will give the public a better impression of the existing bridge.
"I think it's going to give people a lift," said Gregory Stamm, a Peace Bridge board member. "It'll be a very attractive look and will give people a good feeling about the bridge.
"It's silly to think lighting is the answer to problems at the Peace Bridge," Stamm added. "We need a lot of things to happen at the Peace Bridge and the plaza. But the Peace Bridge is a wonderful vehicle for transporting cars and trucks between two countries, and people shouldn't lose sight of that."
Bridge operators will be able to bathe the bridge with any one of many colors, or they can choose color combinations.
"For a Buffalo Bills game at night, we could light it in Bills colors," Rienas said. The shades could be red, white and blue on July 4, and red and green on Christmas.
Bridge officials will gauge public reaction when choosing colors, said Kenneth A. Schoetz, the authority's chairman.
"Nobody wants to see a polka dot bridge," Schoetz said. "But at appropriate times, and as we explore the medium, we may be more aggressive. We'll have to see what the public says. We're willing to listen. Maybe the public says it wants white lights. We'll do that. But we're able to do more."
"We wouldn't do it solely for aesthetic reasons," Schoetz said. "There are many sound reasons to do the lighting. Times being what they are, one of the terrific bonuses to improving efficiency is we think we're going to have a better-looking bridge and we hope people appreciate that."
The energy costs of the new light-emitting diode (LED) lights will be about one-third of the amount the bridge authority currently pays, Rienas said.
The existing lighting system costs about $48,000 a year. The LED system will cost about $15,000 a year. The LED lights have a lamplife of 60,000 hours, at which time they degrade to about 70 percent of original intensity. On a 12-hour cycle, that translates into a life of about 13 years, Rienas said.
The new system will also improve lighting for security cameras.
"It's all nice," Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said, as he looked at computer-generated images of how the bridge is expected to look with the new lighting system.
"But I want them to think more about the immediate neighborhood and less about the color of lights on the bridge," Hoyt said of bridge officials.
In tough economic times, a million dollars on new lighting seems like a lot, said the Buffalo Democrat, whose district includes the bridge neighborhood. "I'd rather see the local neighborhood benefit or the drivers see a reduction in toll costs," he said.