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Brian McGrory

Bland Zakim Bridge leaves us feeling blue

I was driving over the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge one recent night, ruing the fact that my parents never urged me toward a career in insurance, when I noticed something missing.

Something. Missing. Something.

Blue. Where did all that warm blue light go?

Our famous blue bridge, the one on countless postcards, filling so many posters, the signature of a forward-looking city, was awash in a dreary glaze of white, from the lanes to the cables to the towers. The absence of blue was so striking that I took the next exit, circled back, and drove the span a second time. Maybe I need some hobbies.


But that’s when I saw them, diminutive little blue bulbs at the base of the towers that looked like flashlights in desperate need of a charge. They were sad and tired, these lamps, overwhelmed by the bright white lights all around them.

The next morning, I had Miguel Rosales on the line. Rosales is the justifiably proud architect of the Zakim Bridge who views the blue lights as so important that when they were extinguished a few years ago in a misguided cost-cutting campaign, he sent a $15,000 check to the state to get them turned back on.

“I’ve noticed it,’’ he said, sadly. “They get dirty, they get old, they’re exposed to the environment. It was a good system several years back, but now there is a better technology.’’

The bridge, he said, is supposed to have the feel of a regal entry to Boston, the towers bathed in blue, the cables highlighted in gleaming white.

“When you come from the interstate, we wanted to create a gateway,’’ Rosales said. “It marks that you are entering into the city. It’s like passing through a portal.’’

Now it’s like passing across a long span of drab, which is why Rosales confided that he’s taking matters into his own hands. He’s quietly reached out to lighting companies in hopes that someone will donate new, state-of-the-art LED lights that will give the bridge a glow better than it’s ever had before.


Lighting technology, he said, has advanced miles since the bridge opened in 2003, with longer lasting, more powerful LED bulbs that can be programmed remotely to change colors on demand - green for the Celtics, for example, or red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July. Cities around the world are using them.

“The state would only have to pay for the installation,’’ Rosales said, adding: “The installation is not easy.’’

Has he approached the state? “Not yet.’’

Good luck with that. A normally reliable Department of Transportation spokeswoman yesterday told me that the bridge was as blue as it’s ever been. It’s not. Then she told me that it’s as blue as it was designed to be. Again, just ask the designer. For good measure, she didn’t respond to my invitation to Transportation Secretary Richard Davey to take a drive across the bridge to see for himself.

I get that there are more pressing issues than the color of the Zakim Bridge. I get that the MBTA budget is held together with Scotch tape and paper clips, and too many of our roads are in dire need of repair.

But I also know that we paid for a beautiful bridge, one awash in cobalt blue, a statement to the world but more especially to ourselves that this old town is new again, vibrant and agile. We paid for it in the decade of mayhem that marked the Big Dig, in the billions of dollars in loans that play havoc with state finances even today, in the frustration that too much of it has turned out flawed.


And now our new bridge has the bland look of defeat that characterized Boston of bygone days.

A talented and civic-minded gentlemen by the name of Miguel Rosales will be calling officials soon with a plan to change this. Hopefully they’ll be a little less arrogant to him than they were to me.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.