MASON, W.Va. — The Bridge of Honor, connecting Pomeroy, Ohio, and Mason, W.Va., is once again living up to its name after illumination was restored this week.
It has been more than a year since the cobalt blue lights have shown on the bridge structure. It didn’t take long for the good news to spread Tuesday evening when they returned, however. Social media sites also “lit up” with posts and pictures.
“Excitement is in the air within the communities,” said Meigs County Development Director Perry Varnadoe. “The bridge and the bridge lights are the centerpiece of our three communities of Pomeroy, Middleport and Mason.”
Varnadoe said he expected people to be lining up Wednesday evening for a look. He said he knew many people had been working diligently to get the lights back on, but no one knew for sure if, or when, it would happen.
“My faith is restored,” the director stated.
Work on the bridge lights actually began in March 2014 when they began going off one by one. First thought to be acts of vandalism, it was later found that it was the heat from the bulbs causing the light covers to burst.
The bulb heat, which reached in excess of 200 degrees, caused pressure that could not escape because of the covers. This, in turn, caused the lights to break. The problem was heightened because the company that first sold the lights went out of business.
Because so many of the lights had gone out, the West Virginia Department of Transportation made the decision in early 2015 to simply cut the breaker to them, making the once bright structure totally dark. Because of the estimated cost to replace the lights, and since they were mostly for appearance and not safety, it was sketchy as to whether the lights would ever burn again.
All of the lights were burning Tuesday night, but were ultimately not replaced, but repaired.
“It took quite a bit of repair,” said Warren Skaggs, repair and design engineer with the WVDOT.
Skaggs said it was also a lengthy process getting the light covers replaced, primarily because of the cobalt blue color that signifies the military Purple Heart. Because cobalt is no longer mined, the lenses for the lights could not be found. Blenko Glass in Milton came through, Skaggs said, making a limited number.
“We bought all they could make,” Skaggs stated. “There are no more. If anyone vandalizes the lights now, they cannot be replaced.”
The engineer said along with the new lenses, each heat-tempered bulb was replaced, as well as several ballasts. Skaggs said the bulbs have a four-year life and although he knows they will eventually burn out, crews will try to keep up with them.
He stated another reason the process took so long is that since the housing units were no longer available, some of the lights were actually removed from the bridge and taken to Charleston. There, they were transported to the main shop to be worked on and then returned.
Skaggs said a lot of complaints were received when the lights were turned out, with many calls being made to the state Capitol. He said he is glad they are back on, and the few regular lights that remain off on the West Virginia side of the bridge approach are scheduled to be fixed March 18.
West Virginia House of Delegates member Scott Cadle, of Mason County, was instrumental in keeping the lighting issue on the front burner. He thanked Paul Mattox and Harry Bergstrom of WVDOT, other local delegates, mayors and officials working on the issue. He also credited those who filed complaints with helping to get the lights back on.
“The bridge is beautiful, just like it was when it first opened,” Cadle said. “It is one of the most beautiful bridges in the nation, and definitely in West Virginia.”
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing who lives in Mason County, W.Va.