JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A parade of colors could once again be seen shining along the surface of the St. Johns River on Wednesday evening, a reflection of the rainbow light display along Jacksonville’s Acosta Bridge.
But the colorful spectacle celebrating the LGBTQ+ community was only restored after a tumultuous 24 hours of backlash and questions about the Florida Department of Transportation’s handling of the Pride Month tribute.
The bridge was scheduled to be lit with those colors all week long. Instead, its traditional blue lights returned Tuesday in response to an order from FDOT, citing “several complaints” and a permitting issue.
FDOT on Thursday disclosed it handed down that directive after taking five phone complaints about the display.
“Upon receiving the initial complaints, as per process, the Jacksonville Urban Office notified managers who escalated the issue to district leadership because of a violation of the permit. Upon confirmation, district leadership did make the determination to enforce the permit at the time,” an FDOT spokesperson told the I-TEAM.
Despite receiving more complaints via phone and email since Wednesday, the FDOT spokesperson said the rainbow light display will remain.
“The department has since authorized the use of the color scheme because it is obviously a matter of broad community interest,” the spokesperson said. “The department will continue to follow the existing bridge lighting policy and, in addition to he referenced approved holidays within the policy, it will review requests that include items such as resolutions and/or proclamations, which may articulate broad community interest.”
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority holds a permit from FDOT that allows nine specific color schemes to be used with the display throughout the year, depending on the occasion. For instance, the bridge is typically lit in red, white and blue on Independence Day. Other permitted schemes include teal for the Jaguars and pink for Breast Cancer Awareness.
But on occasion the bridge has shone with other color schemes, ones not specified in the permit.
That was the case April 29 when orange and purple took over the display after it was announced that Clemson University quarterback would be joining the Jacksonville Jaguars. The same was true when the bridge was lit with an unauthorized color scheme for Autism Awareness Month.
As News4Jax reported Wednesday, FDOT said that it “has not received requests regarding variances to the lighting colors or sequences on the Acosta Bridge,” meaning no one sought permission for previous deviations from the permit.
The Pride Month display marks the first time FDOT has told JTA that the bridge’s colors were out of bounds.
Nat Ford, the executive director of JTA, declined to speak on camera about the inconsistent enforcement of the permit. News4Jax asked Mayor Lenny Curry’s Office for comment, but his staff referred a reporter to FDOT and JTA instead.
The silence from JTA and city leadership didn’t keep other public officials from weighing in.
State Sen. Audrey Gibson said it looks like selective enforcement at work. She suggested Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office had something to do with the decision, though the governor’s office has denied having any involvement, saying it would be “absurd” to believe otherwise.
Records obtained by the I-TEAM show the issue isn’t limited to Jacksonville.
In April, FDOT cited a new agency policy when it denied a request from the St. Petersburg mayor’s office to light the Sunshine Skyway with a Pride color scheme. In a statement, the agency said it has denied similar requests from more than 20 organizations, including the American Heart Association and Tampa Bay Rays.
FDOT said it’s working with St. Petersburg on its request, but “unfortunately, the current Sunshine Skyway lighting infrastructure can only display any three colors at a time, which would not a allow a full static display of all rainbow colors, as it has been requested.”