Ravenel Bridge may glow with Irish pride

How the Arthur Ravenel Bridge would appear bathed in green light, which some locals hope to arrange for St. Patrick’s Day.

MOUNT PLEASANT — The Great Pyramids, Rome’s Coliseum, the Sydney Opera House.

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge may not rank among those global icons, but they may all share something in common next spring: a dramatic green hue.

A budding Lowcountry nonprofit is seeking permission to bathe the bridge in green light for a week surrounding St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.

Joe Kelly, a College of Charleston English professor who is part of the Go Green March 17 team, said the lighting would express pride in the Lowcountry’s Irish heritage and would promote South Carolina’s international business profile.

“We just want to join this international celebration of goodwill and the spirit of Saint Patrick,” he said.

The S.C. Department of Transportation built and owns the bridge, and it has told the green team that it first must secure the blessings from Charleston and Mount Pleasant before it considers the request.

The group says it’s willing to pay for the cost of the lighting, which the department will calculate only after Charleston and Mount Pleasant agree to the idea.

Mount Pleasant is leaning toward approving it, and Town Council is expected to make a decision when it meets Tuesday.

Town Councilman Paul Gawrych said he would be happy to see the bridge lit green, adding, “My mom’s side of the family would love to see it happen.”

“I’m Scotch-Irish,” Councilman Chris O’Neal added. “I think it’s cool.”

The city of Charleston is considering the request, too, and Mayor Joe Riley said it will go before at least one city committee for public input. Riley, who has Irish ancestry, said his gut reaction is that the lighting would be OK, “That could be a fun, celebratory event,” he said. “Saint Patrick’s Day is a day that people of all backgrounds and ancestries celebrate because it’s a happy, joyful, fun time.”

S.C. Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Rozier said he also thinks lighting the bridge “would be really neat,” but the state won’t study the issue in-depth until it knows the idea is popular locally.

Installing lighting with the capability of changing colors was considered during design and construction of the Ravenel Bridge but ultimately ruled out because there wasn’t enough money, said Bobby Clair, a former DOT engineer who oversaw the bridge’s construction and who now works with HDR Inc.

The bridge was lit with different colors by portable lights brought in for its opening gala. The 10th anniversary of the Ravenel Bridge’s opening is Thursday.

Paul Flaherty with the Go Green March 17 group said it isn’t looking to change the lighting fixtures but instead place some type of green screen over the bridge’s 128 lights — one at each cable. The state would choose who it would allow to do the work.

Robert Clark, engineering administrator for the district that includes Charleston County, said he isn’t sure how easy it would be to put some sort of green screen over the lights. “They put off a lot of heat,” he said. Also, the work might involve closing a traffic lane, which would add to the cost.

The Ravenel Bridge is just a starting point for what Flaherty, Kelly and others are planning locally.

Kelly said they already have the OK to bathe the S.C. Aquarium in green lighting and ultimately hope to do the same with the aircraft carrier Yorktown at Patriots Point and possibly the College of Charleston’s Randolph Hall, among other landmarks. The college is launching an Irish and Irish American Studies program this fall.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page also voted to give the group the town’s blessing, but she wondered what kind of precedent it might set — and how many similar requests the town might get in the future.

Other groups, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation, already have sought to use the bridge to promote a cause, but the state rejected Komen’s proposal to string bras across the river to highlight breast cancer awareness. Page said the state didn’t want to sanction attaching anything to the structure.

But what if the foundation wanted to light the bridge pink? Or gay rights advocates wanted to shine rainbow colors on it?

Rozier said he hasn’t thought of the Irish request as opening a can of worms, but he figured the state would weigh similar requests.

“I hate not to do something that’s worth doing just because it might set a precedent,” he said, adding that he thought the request for green lights would have a community benefit because it would promote tourism.

“Just to publicize a cause, I’m not sure that’s what we would want to do on the bridge,” he added. “But to benefit the community, to enhance tourism, that’s I think how you would weigh it (any future lighting request). That’s the way I would approach it.”

Page wondered aloud if the only potential downside wasn’t a return of the freezing weather that caused ice to form on the bridge’s cables and led to brief bridge closures during a 2014 ice storm.

“We don’t want green icefalls,” she said. “That certainly wouldn’t be good publicity.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.