City of Tulsa's decision not to buy bridge surge protector may have cost taxpayers thousands

The opening of the Boulder Bridge in downtown Tulsa was a big day for the city.

It was a sunny day in February of 2013. It featured a ribbon-cutting and marching band.

"Simply having this bridge going over the railroad tracks from one terrific side to the other," Mayor Dewey Bartlett said at the unveiling.

It features unique metal artwork with rows of LED light strips underneath to illuminate it at night, but just eight months after the opening, the rows of LED lights stopped working on the bridge's west side.

The lights were part of a grand plan to make the bridge an artistic landmark in Tulsa. It's a bridge with a lot of history.

The Boulder Bridge was built in 1929, was closed for a decade for safety reasons and was torn down in 2009. A rebuilding project launched soon after, and four years and $8 million later, the Boulder Bridge was open once again .

City of Tulsa Field Engineer Manager Terry Ball says the city hired a contractor to put in the lights, which cost $462,000 -- paid for through a sales tax and bond money.

When the lights on the west side stopped working, Ball says the contractor checked it out.

"There was device that was burnt up and he sent it back to the factory to have it looked at, and they put a new one in, but the factory said they'd either seen a lightning strike they think or a surge," Ball said.

The 2NEWS Investigators obtained emails and letters to the city from the light project contractor, subcontractor and an engineering firm. All three cite lightning as a possible or likely reason for the destroyed LED light strips.

But the 2NEWS Investigators found the city didn't have one key component that could've prevented the damage caused by the lightning strike -- something many of us use everyday: a surge protector.

Taxpayers we talked to were surprised.

"There's weather and so that needs to be taken into consideration anytime that you're building anything that may be affected by weather," said Tulsa taxpayer Georgi Magrady.

"They should've paid the extra for the surge protector," said Bob Magrady.

"That would've been the smart thing to do," said Joel Dollar.

"The question is: What do they do now? How do they fix the situation without taking more money out of our pockets?" Magrady said.

We asked the city that same question too. The subcontractor that installed the lights calls the incident an "act of God" and that isn't covered under warranty. So that means you, the taxpayer, will have to pay for the fix.

A surge protector could have prevented the suspected lightning damage and saved the city the cost to fix it too.

Ball realizes not getting the protector may have been a costly mistake.

In fact, after our interview, Ball said the city turned off the east side lights as well until a surge protector is installed saying in an email they "don't want to risk any additional damage."

A city spokesperson says they don't know right now how much it will cost to fix the LED lights.

They are also looking at the price of surge protectors. We did too. We talked to professionals in industrial surge protection, and they told us that to protect the nearly $500,000 worth of LED lights on the bridge, it would have cost the city between $1,000 to $2,000.

Ball says the lessons learned this time around will be used in the future. He says now they will look at getting surge protectors.

"That would be one thing we'd talk about with design and see if on future ones make sure that we do have that, cause when you do have elevated surfaces like a bridge it may be prone more to the lightning," said Ball.

A dark spot in a project that was years in the making.

The 2NEWS Investigators will continue to track your tax dollars and find out how much the repair for the lights will cost you.

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