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May 13. 2013 5:52PM

Bridging the night: Bright ideas in Portsmouth

Drive I-93 to or from Boston at night, and one of the most stunning sights is the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, flashed in bright blue by electric lights blazing below. Portsmouth's Memorial Bridge is on the verge of getting the same dramatic treatment, a testament to leadership, organization and private fund-raising.

Last week the Illumination Committee of the Memorial Bridge Project announced that it had met its goal of raising at least $150,000 to light the bridge with cost-efficient LED lights. The towers and pier footings will be lit with color-changing LED lights. With another $50,000, the center lift span can get the color-changing LED treatment as well.

Raising that kind of money in a sputtering economy is no easy feat. The committee asked individuals, non-profit groups and businesses to give, and they came through in a big way. Many people would have shied away from such a difficult challenge. Portsmouth should be thankful that chairman Peter Somssich and his group did not.

Though roads and bridges are essential government functions, artistic enhancement of public infrastructure is an aesthetic option often rejected because of the cost. The folks in Portsmouth have shown that the private sector can provide the enhancement, as long as the leadership and community support are there. And those things tend to expand and strengthen with more frequent use.

The Zakim bridge, by the way, was enhanced by a similar private effort last year. The blue filters on the bridge lights had faded, and public officials were doing nothing about it. After The Boston Globe's Brian McGrory wrote about it, some citizens and business leaders came forward and bought color-changing LED lights for the bridge.

When government leaders lack the vision to make quality-of-life improvements, the private sector often steps in to fill the void. If every community had such leaders, imagine how much prettier life would be.


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