MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Last month, the I-35W bridge was bathed in royal blue to symbolize the fight against colon cancer.

“It was unbelievable, absolutely stunning. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Anne Carlson, the executive director of the Colon Cancer Coalition.

Her organization had applied for a permit to light the bridge royal blue for a night. More than 200 people showed up that evening to see the colors.

“A lot of the people stood under the bridge and cried, and a lot celebrated their own victories of survivorship,” she said.
The decision to add nighttime colors to the 35W bridge was made before the bridge was even built.

“People thought it would be neat to light up the bridge and celebrate a new beginning again,” said John Pederson, the lighting operations supervisor with MnDOT.

There are 77,000 LED bulbs on the bridge. Below the deck, there are 570 fixtures that light the bridge from above and 48 fixtures on the piers that light from below. Each of the lights is tied into the street lighting system. Pederson says that while the LED system is more expensive upfront, it saves about 30 percent in energy costs in the long-term.

“Plus, we save money by not having to do relamping,” he said. “If a bulb goes out, we don’t have to worry with an LED because the bulbs don’t burn out on an LED. They just get dimmer and dimmer and in 15, 17 or 20 years, you can change the fixture.”

Usually, the 35W bridge is lit at night in a lighter shade of blue that’s symbolic of the water. But, two or three times a month, MnDOT switches the colors. Pedersen can program any color of the rainbow from his office at MnDOT’s headquarters in Roseville.

Some holidays are a definite: red and green for Christmas, pink for Mother’s Day, and red, white and blue for the 4th of July.

In 2009, MnDOT and the Minnesota Attorney General’s office met to determine 13 holidays and events where the bridge would be lit. In addition to Christmas, Mother’s Day, and July 4th, there’s also New Year’s Day (red, white and blue), Valentine’s Day (red), St. Patrick’s Day (green), Workers Memorial Day (orange), Memorial Day (red, white and blue), Flag day (red, white and blue), Labor Day (red, white and blue), University of Minnesota homecoming (maroon and gold), Halloween (orange) and Veteran’s Day (red, white and blue).

“When the Lynx won the championship, we lit it for them,” Pedersen said. “They didn’t request it. We just did it.”

But an organization must apply for a permit for an event by the City of Minneapolis or be endorsed in a resolution adopted from the Minneapolis City Council or Hennepin County Board. Then, that request is approved by MnDOT.

On Tuesday night, the bridge was four different shades of blue for Parkinson’s awareness. More recently, it’s been pink for breast cancer, rainbow colored from Pride Month and gold for after-school programs.

“I love all the chatter on social media,” Carlson said. “Why is the bridge blue, why is the bridge orange, because it gets people to dig into why it is.”

Heather Brown

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