Seven months after the switch was flipped to turn on new LED lights on three bridges between downtowns Little Rock and North Little Rock, dark gaps have appeared in one of them and the project contractor is working to find out why.
Paul Zimmerman, a project engineer with Koontz Electric, said officials learned of the gaps in the Main Street Bridge about a week and a half ago. A physical inspection from the shore revealed cables that run the lights were disconnected in the darkened sections, but it remains unclear what caused the problem.
Entergy donated $2 million for the lights, which were added to the Main Street, Junction and Clinton Presidential Park bridges last year. They were illuminated at a Dec. 19, 2013, ceremony on Little Rock's riverfront featuring President Bill Clinton and celebrating the utility's 100th anniversary.
The dark gaps have appeared on both sides of the Main Street Bridge, one on each face, roughly the length of the River Rail streetcars that cross the span, and three other, smaller sections.
Zimmerman said finding the cause of the problem will require bringing in special equipment to take a closer look, work that is set to occur overnight Friday and Saturday. The LED lights on the Clinton and Junction bridges are attached above the pedestrian walkways, but the ones on the Main Street Bridge are affixed underneath the bridge so they cast their light on the white sides.
That makes it more difficult to access them, Zimmerman said, noting that his company responded to a pair of service calls on the other bridges and had them fixed the same day.
He said a specialized truck will park on the edge of the bridge and then lower a basket over the side so a workman can get close to the lights. Before that occurs, it's difficult to pinpoint the trouble.
"It will be all guessing until I can get up there Friday and Saturday," Zimmerman said. "I can't tell until I get under there. It'll be all speculation."
One possibility is that birds or some other wildlife have gotten into the wiring and somehow caused the cables to come loose, said Libby Lloyd, communications manager for the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, which manages the lights. Zimmerman said officials have seen birds perched in the area.
There will be no charge for the work because the lights came with a one-year warranty on the parts and installation as well as a five-year warranty on the lights themselves.
The warranty doesn't cover acts of God, such as if a tornado came through and damaged the system, but Zimmerman said it would cover these repairs, even if it appears birds are to blame.
"I don't know if you'd be able to prove a bird ripped it out," he said. "So we'll fix it and try to mitigate the problem."
Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he didn't think the outages were "particularly unusual" and said that despite the gaps, he has received compliments about the bridge lights from visitors in Little Rock for the Southern Leadership Conference this week.
"It's not particularly disconcerting to me," he said. "Obviously, they'll be some level of maintenance on the lights as time goes on. This is covered by the warranties."
Stodola added that a maintenance contract will be reached to cover repairs after the warranty expires in December.
An Entergy spokesman said the utility was not concerned and also expects some such problems will arise.
"We also have issues this time of year with animals getting into our facilities so we understand the challenges inherent in that as well," spokesman Julie Munsell said in a statement. "All the agencies are working together to get it addressed as quickly as possible."
Zimmerman said he doesn't expect significant changes will be necessary to the bridge, noting some problems are likely to crop up in a "job this size."
"It's not a perfect world," he said.