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Bay Bridge art installation set to light up Tuesday

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Tuesday marks the beginning of the two-year installation. - LUCAS SAUGEN
  • Lucas Saugen
  • Tuesday marks the beginning of the two-year installation.

Folks walking along The Embarcadero will notice something a little different on the Bay Bridge starting Tuesday.

Composed of 25,000 light-emitting diodes, the Bay Lights installation will drape across the western span of the bridge, making it the largest such project in the world, according to producer Amy Critchett of Illuminate the Arts, which is staging the event. Tuesday marks the beginning of the two-year installation, with the lights coming on at dusk and going out at 2 a.m. daily.

Because of the way the lights are positioned, the glow from the display will beam out to neighborhoods such as Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill and portions of Fisherman’s Wharf. But the most spectacular views will come from The Embarcadero, particularly near the Ferry Building, which sits next to the base of the Bay Bridge.

Critchett said the lights will be visible as far away as Point Richmond in the East Bay, but they are aligned in a way that won’t cause emanations outside of a clear view of the display -- meaning neighbors will be able to go to sleep at night without an annoying glow in their eye.

Drivers on the Bay Bridge also won’t have to worry about getting blinded by the display, as it can’t be seen from the span. There are no plans to close the bridge or change traffic levels for the opening of the event, said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages the bridge.

The Bay Lights project was chosen by regional officials as a way to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary, which was actually two years ago. Crews began installing the lights in September, Critchett said. The lights have been turned on several times in the past month to test out the display.

For the materials, installation, maintenance and administrative expenses, the cost of the project will be about $8 million, all of which will come from private donors. So far, Illuminate the Arts has raised $6 million. Information about donating can be at www.thebaylights.org.

Along with providing residents with a pleasing visual, the Bay Lights installation is expected to generate $97 million for the local economy, according to Critchett. That figure, which came from an economic study commissioned by Illuminate the Arts, accounts for increased revenue at local restaurants, bar, boat tours and other attractions.  

It also gives the Bay Bridge a moment in the spotlight often occupied only by the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Even though it’s not as famous, I think everyone has a favorite memory or story about the Bay Bridge,” said Critchett. “By using it as a canvas for this project, we’re hoping that people look at the bridge and relive those memories.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com