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The lights keep changing on the Acosta Bridge. How does that happen?

Published on June 16, 2023 at 12:47 pm

Jacksonville’s Acosta Bridge will light up in red, black and green on Monday for Juneteenth, one of several displays through the year to commemorate holidays and causes.

Last weekend, a multi-colored glow honored Pride Month. The bridge has beamed teal to celebrate the Jacksonville Jaguars, yellow to raise awareness of spina bifida, and blue and yellow in honor of the Ukrainian people.

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People might wonder: How does a group, organization or person request a color change to honor or commemorate something? And how does the general public know what each night’s color scheme means?

JTA spokesman John Finotti said anyone interested in submitting requests should contact JTA Customer Service at (904) 630-3100. From those requests, a list of holidays, memorials and honorings are submitted to the JTA Board for review and approval. That list is then submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation, then “locked in for each year,” Finotti said.

The list, with color schemes for each month and the list of observances, is on JTA’s website at jtafla.com/news-events-media/acosta-bridge-lighting. It does not give specific dates for the displays, only the month, color possibilities and what’s being honored, Finotti said.

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History of the lights

The Acosta Bridge honors City Councilman Elmo Acosta and his efforts in 1921 to get the original span built. The current bridge is the second to bear his name.

The current span gained its 2,500 feet of color-changing LED lights in 2020. The glowing light bands replaced the original blue system first installed in 1999, then turned off in 2015 due to problems.

A City Council resolution in November 2022 set forth the color schemes acceptable for each month, ranging from gold, red, teal and some combinations in January, to red, white and blue for May (Memorial Day) and July (Fourth of July). It also lists almost 100 holidays from Kwanzaa and St. Patrick’s Day to Halloween, as well as multiple disease and social issue awareness days that can be honored.

Pride Month 2021

Exactly two years ago, however, an issue arose when JTA did a rainbow color scheme to honor Pride Month, which commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City, when patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn tavern staged an uprising to resist police harassment and persecution of gays.

The FDOT ordered JTA to turn off the rainbow light scheme, and LGBTQ groups protested when the JTA responded to the FDOT’s by reverting the color scheme to blue.

“We have received several complaints regarding the color scheme on the Acosta Bridge,” FDOT District 2 Deputy District Maintenance Engineer Mark Kuhn wrote then in an email to JTA’s director of construction and engineering. “Please adhere to your permitted color scheme.”

That email also included a list of 10 permitted color schemes for that year, including teal for Jaguars game days, pink for breast cancer awareness, amber for New Year’s, and red and pink for Valentine’s Day, among other holidays. According to FDOT’s bridge lighting policy at the time, “the department reserves the right to refuse any request it deems offensive or not in the best public interest.”

A day after FDOT’s email, JTA returned the Acosta Bridge to its multicolor display. Although those colors were not previously submitted or approved, FDOT had since authorized their use as a matter of “broad community interest,” state officials said.

The state agency also said that it would work with all local partners to ensure bridge lighting requests are facilitated consistently, fairly and impartially.


author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.
author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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