- Associated Press - Monday, February 17, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) - Terry Orf plays with the biggest, and perhaps most expensive, toy in town.

The sky’s the limit for the architect and computer animation expert who designed, programs and manages the rainbow array of some 11,000 light-emitting diodes illuminating the Harbor Bridge.

The $2 million lighting system took five months to install and can be customized with any of Orf’s whims that the city approves. Among several dozen displays, it was turned pink for breast cancer, stars and stripes for patriotic holidays and even featured underwater scenes. All flow across dozens of tubular prisms highlighted by upper girder and bridge underbelly spotlights.

“Any color in the rainbow,” Orf, 62, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/LTamON). “It’s a complex system with about 10 miles of fiber optic communication wiring linking 970 fixtures.”

The light show is a partnership of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas Department of Transportation, Port of Corpus Christi and a private investor. The lights remain a bright spot for a number of reasons, enough so that plans are being made for lights on a replacement bridge.

“It’s still not decided what type of bridge,” said Rickey Daily, spokesman for the transportation department. “But there is strong support for it having lights.”

It was former Mayor Joe Adame’s dream, after seeing the illuminated Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Timing was right,” Adame said. “It could be installed with a change order from the contractor doing the bridge work in 2011. It’s amazing how it all just fell in place.”

The city and Port of Corpus Christi approved $200,000 each, and the Department of Transportation covered $1.3 million. It left a gap of $300,000. It was initially credited to an anonymous donor, who Adame said was American Bank, approved by CEO Al Jones in honor of the bank’s 40th anniversary.

“We’re still enamored with it,” Jones said. “It’s wonderful, great, really fantastic. It’s an iconic statement for Corpus Christi, especially with emphasis on our Port - a crowning cap for our community.”

Adame said the icing on the cake was attending his last U.S. Conference of Mayors last summer in Orlando, Fla. The president of Philips Color Kinetics, which manufactured the system, asked to speak about the Harbor Bridge. A video image of it shifting colors spanned the stage on a high-resolution screen.

“I’ve always said people here don’t think big enough,” Adame said. “This was an eye-opener on how we can come together to get the ‘wow’ effect.”

The city pays operation costs for utilities, maintenance and the salary of Orf, who has a one-year contract.

The problems have been few, but a single outage requires some work.

“The LED’s have about 50,000 hours of life,” Orf said. “A few individual 4-foot sections have gone out, and every time I replace a fixture, I have to reprogram the whole system.”

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