HUSAR: Lighting Quincy Bayview Bridge was longtime dream of 'Mr. Quincy' Joe Bonansinga

Posted: Oct. 11, 2012 8:24 pm Updated: Jan. 3, 2013 10:15 pm

If Joe Bonansinga was here right now, a big smile would be stretching across his face.

Bonansinga, who died in April 2003 at age 92, was known for years as "Mr. Quincy" -- for good reason.

He was Quincy's most relentless promoter. He was always looking for ways to improve the community and raise its stature in the eyes of the world.

Bonansinga would be smiling today because the City Council appears on the verge of finally acting on an idea Bonansinga started pushing nearly 20 years ago.

In the early 1990s, Bonansinga began nagging city officials to explore the possibility of illuminating the Quincy Bayview Bridge at night.

Bonansinga would note that some other Mississippi River bridges -- particularly Alton and Burlington, Iowa -- were lighted while Quincy's newest bridge was not. He even led a delegation to Burlington to see how that bridge looked at night.

Many city officials shared Bonansinga's dream of lighting Quincy Bayview Bridge, but they were handcuffed by a lack of resources.

The concept took a major step forward nine years ago, however, when Chuck Bevelheimer, the city's director of planning and development, convinced the Illinois Department of Transportation to rewrap the bridge's support cables with reflective white tape. IDOT needed to rewrap the cables anyway, so Bevelheimer urged the agency to do it in white -- just in case some money surfaced for lights. This action, coming at no expense to the city, effectively trimmed about half of the lighting project's cost, estimated at about $1 million.

Then in 2005, Sen. Dick Durbin announced $500,000 for the project was being set aside in a federal transportation bill. So another major hurdle was crossed.

However, even with nearly all the needed funding in hand, the lighting project still went nowhere because some aldermen groused about ongoing energy costs to operate the lights.

As years passed, new technology was invented that made it possible to use light-emitting diodes at a fraction of the energy costs previously estimated. Then in recent months at least 22 local businesses and individuals pitched in nearly $200,000 to cover the remaining installation costs and pay the energy bills for several years.

Now, convinced that local tax dollars won't be used, the City Council's Finance Committee this week endorsed a proposal to light the bridge from dusk until dawn. The issue goes to the full council Monday.

What's more, the committee was told that because of the LED technology, the city would be able to change colors easily for special occasions. For instance, the bridge could be turned pink for breast cancer awareness events or red, white and blue on the Fourth of July.

Had he known that, Bonansinga would have done cartwheels all the way to the speaker's lectern in the City Council chambers to implore aldermen to approve the lighting plan.

Bonansinga, a showman at heart, loved circuses, parades and big-band music. He would have done everything in his power to convince aldermen that lighting the bridge would be a positive step for Quincy; would add luster to the Gem City's national reputation; and would reflect the community spirit that twice earned Quincy All-America City awards (in 1962-63 and 1984-85).

Bonansinga has already done a lot to get the project to this point, and now there are indications aldermen might finally be willing to declare: Let there be light.

In Joe's eyes, that would be cause for celebration.

Then if only someone could find a way to get a circus and marching band to parade across the bridge at the future lighting-dedication ceremony, Joe could finally rest in peace.




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