Challenge: Reconnecting Two Communities Severed by the Destruction of a Bridge During Hurricane Katrina

SOLUTION On Aug. 29, 2005, portions of U.S. 90—one of the South's most-traveled scenic highways—were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, including the Biloxi Bay Bridge that runs between Biloxi and Ocean Springs, Miss. These two communities, with their close social and economic ties, heavily relied on the connection because of the quick access it allowed between them. The construction of a new bridge was vital to signal the recovery of the area. Wanting to rebuild as quickly as possible, the engineers kept the structural design of the concrete bridge fairly plain. This is where the lighting design, completed by Bloomfield, N.J.–based Illumination Arts, came into play. The scheme ennobles the humdrum design of the bridge and symbolizes the reconnection of Biloxi and Ocean Springs.

Creating a horizontal necklace of light across the Biloxi Bay to connect the communities of Biloxi and Ocean Springs, Miss., with a continuous line of light, 55W QL lamps with a color temperature of 4000K are mounted to the side of the structure with custom-made brackets. Ken Douglas

Lighting design for bridges is one of Illumination Arts' specialties, as principal Ken Douglas notes. But the Biloxi Bay Bridge was different. With this project, Douglas says, there was “a lot of attachment to it, there was much more emotion involved. This area was wiped out, and this bridge was a symbol [to the community] of coming back.” Through discussions with area residents, Douglas and his team came to understand just what the structure meant to the two communities, which led them to the reconnection theme.

A necklace of light extends along the sides of the bridge deck, 95 feet above the surface of the water. Using 55W QL lamps with a color temperature of 4000K, mounted to the structure with custom-made brackets, Douglas intended to create a continuous horizontal line of light connecting the two communities on either end of the bridge. In contrast, to emphasize the strength of the bridge and tie the deck to the water and earth below, surface-mounted metal halide floodlights varying from 100W to 250W vertically illuminate the bridge piers.

At each of the shoreline abutments of the 1.6-mile-long structure, 70W metal halide accent lights are used to highlight the underside of the bridge. Douglas points out that these accent lights were the result of forward-thinking to provide adequate illumination levels for people passing under the bridge through a shoreline park area.

When the bridge reopened to traffic in fall 2007, the community celebrated with a large party, complete with fireworks. “The reopening was a statement that the community was being rebuilt and overcoming what happened,” Douglas says. Once again, these two cities are connected. The bridge allows access between Biloxi and Ocean Springs in about a five minutes—as opposed to the 45-minute post-Katrina, pre-reconstruction detour.

The bridge, which at its highest point sits 95 feet above the Biloxi Bay, is illuminated vertically at the bridge piers with surface-mounted metal halide floodlights varying from 100W to 250W. The vertical lines of light are meant to emphasize the strength of the bridge as rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, while also tying it to the water and earth below. Ken Douglas

While creating a bridge lighting scheme initially might have seemed old-hat to Illumination Arts, in this instance, Douglas and his team had their work cut out for them. It wasn't easy to visually reconnect two cities using light, especially not with a fast-approaching deadline and a community with pressing questions and concerns. But the effort was successful—and in the end, that's all that matters to Douglas. “We had to give them a beautiful structure they could be proud of,” he says. “This is more than just a bridge to the people who live there. We wanted to pick up on their emotions and represent those emotions with the lighting.”

Project Biloxi Bay Bridge, Biloxi, Miss.
Design Team Illumination Arts, Bloomfield, N.J. (lighting designer); Touchstone Architecture and Consulting, Tallahassee, Fla. (architect); Parsons Transportation, Chicago (engineer)
Photographer Ken Douglas, Illumination Arts, Bloomfield, N.J.
Project Size 1.6 miles long
Project Cost $338.6 million
Manufacturers Kim Lighting, MagniFlood, WE-EF Lighting