Flipping the Switch

by Ashley Schreck
1,000 Pounds Project

A group of young professionals seeks to light up the Murray Baker Bridge in vibrant colors.

Above: The Cox Bridge in Lowell, Massachusetts was outfitted with LED lighting to highlight its architecture and create a colorful display announcing holidays and special events.

What does “innovation” really mean? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. At first, I’m not sure I would classify the idea of “flipping the switch” as innovative. Creative, absolutely. Problem-solving, potentially. But innovative? First off, lighting a bridge isn’t new, nor is it using a particularly new technology, as LEDs have been around for years. And to most who are just hearing about it, they might question why we would want to do it at all, let alone again.  

Innovation is an act of making changes to an existing product or process by introducing new ways or ideas. That is exactly what our group of young professionals is doing in trying to light the Murray Baker Bridge in full-color LED lights. 

Leveraging 1,000 Pounds
While attending riverfront concerts and festivals or cruising on a boat down the river, I dreamed of the opportunity for greater vibrancy on a structure that quite literally connects us. When Illinois Senator Chuck Weaver invited me to be a leader for his newly-formed 1,000 Pounds Project, I knew exactly what idea I wanted to pitch: “flipping the switch.” 

The purpose of 1,000# is to take on different opportunities to improve our community by applying 1,000 pounds of effort to get 1,000,000 pounds of results. While pitching the idea of lighting the bridge felt daunting, by being connected within my community, I was able to be present in conversations and learn that the resurfacing of the Murray Baker Bridge was already slated to happen in the near-future. The City of Peoria and other stakeholders were on the same page, and it just made sense to try to relight the bridge during IDOT’s construction timeline. Now, how does this all come together and be truly innovative? 

Let’s jump back a bit and give a little history as to how we got here. Decorative lights first twinkled on the Murray Baker (I-74) Bridge on July 4, 1991. Much of the credit goes to Leonard Marshall, a banker, Jim Rochford, an attorney, and D. James Jumer, a business owner, who had big dreams of riverfront development. 

With the help of community members and assistance from the Community Foundation, a $150,000 fundraising campaign commenced “selling” lights for $250 each. It was said to have been the first decoratively lit interstate bridge in the country. The lighting system consisted of 156 lights outlining the bridge’s peaks and valleys, and the plaque of donors still sits on the riverfront today. But as of 2012, the lights have gone dark, with bulbs either breaking or burning out. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, they haven’t been replaced or maintained. Here’s our opportunity to change that. 

A Plan for Sustainability
This project has many facets to it. First of all, we are a small group of young professionals working together with stakeholders to accomplish something that will benefit everyone. As such, our group attended the first stakeholder meeting to talk about design possibilities and offer input we thought was valuable. 

Secondly, we are not a group whose focus is solely on fundraising. Lighting a bridge is expensive—and a complex system allowing it to change colors only adds to the cost. There is a budget planned for a basic lighting system, and it's not our intention to act as a replacement for that budget, but rather, to add to it. Here’s where we need everyone’s support. Just like last time, lighting the bridge won’t happen unless we come together with our dollars. Unlike last time, we are developing a process to maintain the lights for years to come. 

After the bridge is lit, it will offer the unique opportunity for businesses, organizations and community members to make a special lighting request. The Bradley Braves could light it red and white after a big win; the Festival of Lights could use it to kick off their festival. It could be red, white and blue for the Red, White and Boom Fourth of July celebration—the possibilities are endless. The revenue generated from this opportunity can offset the costs of operations and maintenance, helping to ensure it does not go dark again. 

Meanwhile, other beautification projects in our region are currently underfunded or unfunded due to the many other needs our communities face. We would recommend that a portion of the funds generated (after expenses) be granted back to the community in the form of beautification grants, and that stakeholder representatives and community members sit on a granting committee to oversee the fund.

Over the next few months, there will be a public announcement, and we hope you all can attend. Our website and Facebook page will serve as a forum for information and updates. 

Bridging the Gap
Why not, Peoria? Let’s invest in our region, like the residents of Des Moines, Omaha, and Louisville have done. It’s more than just lighting a bridge—with it can come increased tourism and business development on both sides of the river. Thanks to the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, we have been communicating with other cities who have completed similar projects, and we believe our sustainability plan sets us apart. As the construction timeline approaches, now is the time to execute. We can’t wait—who knows when we will get another opportunity like this one?

In order to bridge the gap in funding, it’s going to take support from the entire region. Whatever is raised through our “Light It Up” campaign will be a welcome addition to having no lighting at all. Whether you choose to personally donate or assist by getting your business to sponsor or creating a third-party fundraiser, you can help “flip the switch” by making your contribution today! iBi

Ashley Schreck is director of marketing at EP!C and a 1,000# Team Leader. Learn more about the 1,000# Project at 1000poundsproject.org. To learn more about the “Light It Up” campaign, visit lightitup74.wixsite.com/fliptheswitch.