BRIDGE LIGHTS -Permitting Process

WLB commissioned design concepts for four bridges and installation upgrades for another — the 5 consecutive central-city bridges (Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside, Broadway and Steel).  Multnomah County owns the first four and the last (furthest downriver) belongs to Union Pacific Railroad.  Formal application to install lights can be made to the bridge owner once conceptual designs have been specified by electrical plans (schedules and diagrams, wiring diagrams and elevations).  Final approval also requires consent or actions to satisfy other local, state and federal jurisdictions.

Multnomah County’s permitting process verifies that ownership and liability issues are not compromised.  It defers to the County’s Bridge Section to see that the structural integrity of each bridge is maintained.  That includes considerations such as wind load factors and fixtures’ weight stress, and requirements such as attaching fixtures with clamps rather than boring into the structures.  WLB can contract with Multnomah County to do the installation, but if WLB acts as contractor it must apply to the City of Portland’s Office of Permitting and Design Review.  Part of OPDR’s review of land use and construction issues would include notifying neighboring resident and business associations of the lighting plans.

Note:  Even though WLB did not act as the contractor for the Hawthorne installation, WLB met with those groups whose borders touch the Hawthorne Bridge.  Each group saw the proposed lighting plan and WLB answered their questions and concerns.  Efficient energy use and minimum light pollution were consistent priorities.  Each group indicated support for the design.  This communication step with adjacent groups is planned for each new lighting system installation.

County and City approval checklists include review by other pertinent jurisdictions for a variety of interests.  US and State Fish & Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service, for example, must attest that the lights will have no negative effect on protected birds or fish (e.g. that light won’t impede Peregrine falcon nesting habits or interfere with migration or predation of endangered salmon and trout).

Reducing light pollution is the aim of the International Dark Sky Association.  Although that group’s approval is not formally required, Jim Benya, who heads WLB’s technical committee, is a recognized expert in this field and serves on the board of IDSA.  He will verify with that group that all the WLB design projects meet their standards.

Water, roadway and air traffic safety—visibility for pilots and drivers as they cross under, on and above the bridges—must also be confirmed by the US Coast Guard and the City of Portland Traffic Division.

The State Historic Preservation Office will be asked to review the plans, informally or formally, depending on the cultural import of each bridge.



WLB is at various stages of informal and formal application for the 5 bridges’ designs.

Hawthorne Permit Approved; Lights-On Celebrated as part of Portland Symphony concert finale at Tom McCall Waterfront Park 9/2/04

  • Electrical plans were drawn by IDC and formal application, including those plans, was made by WLB to the bridge owner, Multnomah County.
  • Representatives of WLB and the County’s Bridge Section met to determine all the policy and technical issues involved when an outside group proposes changes to a county bridge.  WLB and the County reached accord on specifics for hiring the County’s Bridge Shop to install and operate the Hawthorne design.
  • The County completed the installation in August, 2004 and, as provided in the WLB/County Agreement, now owns the architectural lighting system.
  • Also as agreed, WLB provided funds to the County to cover costs of operating (purchasing alternative energy) and maintaining (supplies and labor) the system.

MorrisonFormal Permit Not Required; Lights-On Celebration hosted by Pacific Power 2/14/07

  • Formal permit application was not required because this was an upgrade of the system installed in the late 1980s.
  • Switching to light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures reduced energy use to about 1/8th of previous floodlight fixtures; fabricating brackets which enable deck-side (rather than over-the-side) maintenance vastly reduced those costs and risks as well.
  • Ed Slavin of Northern Illumination Co. provided pro bono expertise to determine and procure upgrade hardware and to coordinate changes with County’s Bridge Shop.
  • Multnomah County Bridge Shop designed and fabricated the new fixture brackets.
  • Representatives of WLB and County’s Public Affairs office did outreach to the various related groups—County Board of Commissioners, neighborhood and business groups abutting the bridge, river users and local offices of river-related government jurisdictions—before installation began.
  • Pacific Power, supportive of the efficiency of the system and WLB’s use of alternative energy, provided the final donation of funds necessary to cover the costs of the system upgrade and operation.

Burnside:  Designs and permitting are being updated as technology allows; funding sought to phase in entire system. 

  • Jim Benya, Benya Lighting Design, has turned artist Bill Will’s lighting concept for the Burnside Bridge into an actual lighting design–e.g., what types of light fixtures, how many, where they should be hung.
  • Mazzetti & Associates, Consultants & Engineers, completed its contract to translate Benya’s lighting design into electrical drawings, specifying power needs, every piece of hardware, conduit, etc., and exactly where and how all must be installed.
  • WLB and County bridge staff have approved installation plans for Phase I:   Flood lights mounted on the  dolphins to shine up on the towers and their fluted bases.  Installation plans are in process for LEDs to be mounted along the roofline of the towers (Phase III).
  • Second and fourth phases will add LEDs to reveal the trusses of the bascules (tilting up sections) and the outer spans and Phase V will replace the cobra-head highway lights with period style lamp bases (to replicate the originals) and new technology illuminaires (to provide natural and non-polluting visibility).

Broadway:  Electrical drawings and permitting will begin in earnest once the Burnside system is advanced.

  • Multnomah County’s recent major upgrades of the bridge do not appear to require changes in the design concept WLB commissioned by local artist Don Merkt.

Steel:  Initiating the application process is different for this bridge because it is owned by the Union Pacific Railway

  • UPRR is not accustomed to requests by outsiders to alter its structure, so it has no set process for such approval.
  • When WLB contacted railway personnel shortly after the conceptual designs were completed it became apparent that the process will channel through myriad UPRR administrative and legal staff as well as the usual jurisdictional offices.