The 33rd Avenue viaduct will be giving off Hollywood vibes this week with black and gold lighting in honor of the Columbus Days 2023 theme of “Lights, Camera, Action!”
“We thought it would be nice for Columbus Days,” Public Works Director Chuck Sliva said, noting the movie-inspired theme for the community celebration this week.
For a little more than a year, the 33rd Avenue viaduct uplighting feature has become a popular attraction for residents and visitors thanks to its ability to change colors on a moment’s notice. It’s actually one of the only Nebraska Department of Transportation up-lit overpass structures in the entire state.
Ironically, the project came about after the City’s Public Works Department began hearing complaints in 2020 about the old lighting on the viaduct not working.
“We had clear lights on there, but they had deteriorated from salt and grime on the viaduct. It all corroded over the lights,” Public Works Director Chuck Sliva recalled. “So, we were just going to replace some of the fixtures.”
But, a trip to Omaha inspired a different idea. Sliva said he was out in Omaha for high school state wrestling when he saw the pedestrian bridge shared by Omaha and Council Bluffs, Iowa, with the multicolor lighting. He got to talking with other City leaders about all the options and replacement costs, as well as those in Omaha and Council Bluffs. Then, a plan was hatched to bring that concept of LED (light-emitting diode) lighting with multicolor options to Columbus.
When staff started to look into the overall process, it found issues with conduits that were part of the bridge construction at the time of construction. All the junction boxes, conduits and panel boxes needed to be replaced to bring everything up to standard. That added cost to the project to total at that time to about $180,000 total to complete. The project was completed in June 2022.
The viaduct features 24 LED lights total, eight on each side of the structure and eight down the center. Thirty-six LED lights are in each fixture. The span of the arches is 260 feet long and 36 feet at its highest point.
City Engineer Rick Bogus assisted by providing his knowledge of permitting and working with Union Pacific Railroad, while Prochaska & Associates was also a consultant on the lighting and design of the new setup.
The benefits of the new lights on the viaduct have been tremendous in many ways.
Financially, they’ve actually saved the City money. The cost of LED lights and fixtures cost more upfront, but Sliva said they last five times longer and cost 10%-15% less to run than the original lights to operate.
Plus, they’ve gotten a lot of praise from residents and visitors while also raising awareness for numerous initiatives.
“I just think it’s a really neat thing to see when you drive into town,” Sliva said.
The viaduct has been lit red, white and blue for the Fourth of July and Labor Day; yellow/gold in early September for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month; and burgundy in late mid-September for National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month.
The Public Works Department has a schedule for color changes throughout the year, though does take requests for the lights within reason.
“Sometimes we change them out multiple times in a month,” Sliva said, noting they make them green or maroon for Scotus and Columbus High, respectively, depending on which high school football team has a home game in Pawnee Park. “People can make a request, as long as it's not political or something like that.”
For more information about requesting a change in the Viaduct Lighting, please read our Lighting Policy. You can do so on the City’s website by clicking here.
“I think it looks like a million bucks when you drive into town at night,” Sliva said. “We’ve had a lot of positive comments from the public. They seem to be really enjoying it.”