CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Terry Orf plays with the biggest, and perhaps most expensive, toy in town.
The sky's the limit for the architect and computer animation expert who designed, programs and manages the rainbow array of some 11,000 light-emitting diodes illuminating the Harbor Bridge.
The $2 million lighting system took five months to install and can be customized with any of Orf's whims that the city approves. Among several dozen displays, it was turned pink for breast cancer, stars and stripes for patriotic holidays and even featured underwater scenes. All flow across dozens of tubular prisms highlighted by upper girder and bridge underbelly spotlights.
"Any color in the rainbow," Orf, 62, told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (http://bit.ly/LTamON). "It's a complex system with about 10 miles of fiber optic communication wiring linking 970 fixtures."
The light show is a partnership of the city of Corpus Christi, Texas Department of Transportation, Port of Corpus Christi and a private investor. The lights remain a bright spot for a number of reasons, enough so that plans are being made for lights on a replacement bridge.
"It's still not decided what type of bridge," said Rickey Daily, spokesman for the transportation department. "But there is strong support for it having lights."
It was former Mayor Joe Adame's dream, after seeing the illuminated Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey.
"Timing was right," Adame said. "It could be installed with a change order from the contractor doing the bridge work in 2011. It's amazing how it all just fell in place."
The city and Port of Corpus Christi approved $200,000 each, and the Department of Transportation covered $1.3 million. It left a gap of $300,000. It was initially credited to an anonymous donor, who Adame said was American Bank, approved by CEO Al Jones in honor of the bank's 40th anniversary.
"We're still enamored with it," Jones said. "It's wonderful, great, really fantastic. It's an iconic statement for Corpus Christi, especially with emphasis on our Port — a crowning cap for our community."
Adame said the icing on the cake was attending his last U.S. Conference of Mayors last summer in Orlando, Fla. The president of Philips Color Kinetics, which manufactured the system, asked to speak about the Harbor Bridge. A video image of it shifting colors spanned the stage on a high-resolution screen.
"I've always said people here don't think big enough," Adame said. "This was an eye-opener on how we can come together to get the 'wow' effect."
The city pays operation costs for utilities, maintenance and the salary of Orf, who has a one-year contract.
The problems have been few, but a single outage requires some work.
"The LED's have about 50,000 hours of life," Orf said. "A few individual 4-foot sections have gone out, and every time I replace a fixture, I have to reprogram the whole system."
Weather has been included on the outage list. In July 2012 lightning struck four spotlights atop the bridge and fried a whole section.
"It's like an act of Congress," Orf said. "We have to shut down the bridge to one lane of traffic to get up there."
His biggest crisis was four days before launching the system when only about 60 percent of it was finished.
"The whole thing crashed," he said. "It turned out radio waves from Ship Channel communications were interfering with the lighting system communications."
After three days struggling, the day of the launch he called in "the super geeks," he said, with Philips Color Kinetics.
"I was pacing up and down, telling them all the people with the money expect a show in eight hours," Orf said.
"These young engineers identified the problem as the Port's highest frequency and they isolated it out by reprogramming the chips to ignore it. It's gone like clockwork since."
Orf is a resident of Aransas Pass, who operated Architect TKO for 10 years. He's now with Naismith Engineering, Inc., which got the contract to design and install the lighting.
Firm President John Michael advocated lighting the bridge.
"As engineers we just like to look up at the truss," Michael said. "But when you can light it with colors, that's really cool. Terry was the brains, who trained with and worked with Philips, after evaluating vendors and their products to determine what would withstand our corrosive environment."