Fort Worth’s West 7th bridge has become iconic.
The bridge is often depicted in the foreground on promotional materials for the city, including website banners. In many of those images, the bridge is lit up, mirroring the nearby former Pier 1 Imports building, soon to be Fort Worth’s new City Hall. However, keeping the lights working has been a challenge, said Clint Hoover, a transportation engineering manager with the city.
“The current state of affairs is that the lighting is very labor intensive and very expensive to keep up with,” Hoover said.
The bridge initially attracted attention for its unique architecture, but its color-changing lights quickly became an integral part of the appeal.
“The West 7th bridge is kind of like icing on the cake; it really helps to make a sense of community,” Hoover said. “It’s more than your standard safety lights.”
Ten years after the bridge was initially built by TxDOT, the city is preparing to spend $2.5 million to upgrade the lights within the structure, making them more reliable and easier to repair. The bridge’s original lights were replaced in 2016 with a color-changing LED system, according to previous reporting.
Hoover said reasons for the challenges in upkeep include obsolete equipment and vandalism. Also, the fixtures are not waterproof, he said, making it difficult to get the lights operating again after a storm.
“It’s like an old house, where you’re spending more time maintaining it, you’re sinking more money into maintenance,” Hoover said.
The bridge’s unique design also makes it hard to do repairs. Its signature 12 parallel arches were constructed off-site at a nearby casting yard, then installed. That means maintenance crews cannot drill into the precast concrete arches, Hoover said.
When city crews and contractors get tied up with repairs on the West 7th bridge, it takes time away from working in neighborhoods or at intersections that rely on streetlights to remain safe, Hoover said.
The LEDs on the West 7th bridge don’t necessarily make the span safer, but they have become a piece of Fort Worth iconography and keeping them illuminated is an aesthetic priority for Fort Worth residents, Hoover said.
“It’s a very high visibility case,” Hoover said. “We certainly have received a lot of questions, requests. … It’s a continual top ask.”
Once the bridge was completed, the city of Fort Worth became responsible for operating and maintaining it, according to the city’s contract with TxDOT. The city plans to spend about $300,000 on designing a new lighting system in 2024 and $2.2 million on constructing that system in 2025.
Once the bridge has the new lighting system in place, it should be easier to replace and repair, Hoover said. The city should also be able to more easily change the colors of the lights to celebrate occasions and events.
“You build it, you have to maintain it,” Hoover said. “If we’ve got infrastructure that supports the community that’s operable, and it’s well maintained, … that builds pride, that builds confidence in the future bond requests and future projects.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.