Barry Eitel

The Bay Bridge, often overlooked by San Francisco tourists and deemed the workhorse bridge compared to the flashy Golden Gate, will be getting a dazzling makeover come March.

Internationally-renowned artist Leo Villareal will turn the bridge into the world’s largest light sculpture. The switch gets flipped on March 5th.

Villareal’s art is part of permanent collections in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art in New York City and Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum in Kagawa, Japan.

The Bay Lights, as the sculpture is called, will take over the west span of the bridge. The Bay Lights will be 1.8 miles in length and 500 feet high.

“It’s my fantasy project. There have been a lot of bridge lightings, but nothing like this,” says Villareal, whose work appears in museums and in public spaces in New York, Washington, D.C., and Istanbul, Turkey. “I’ll incorporate 255 levels of brightness and sequence the lights so that the piece becomes a mirror to its surroundings.”

The lights will stay on for a full two years.

The Bay Lights features 25,000 LED lights. Each of these energy-efficient lights is individually programmable, giving the artist a near-infinite amount of creative potential.

Being the Bay Area, of course Villareal’s project is extremely ‘green.’ The LED lights he is utilizing use a minuscule amount of energy, even though there are thousands upon thousands of tiny bulbs. According to official estimates, the entire art installation will cost a mere $30 a day in electricity to keep on.

Organizers of the project have raised almost 70 percent of the $8 million required and are now seeking another $2.5 million in finishing funds.

The idea of Bay Lights was the child of Villareal and Ben Davis, who approached the artist after seeing some of his work in the San Jose Museum of Art. The project also celebrates the 75th anniversary of the completion of the Bay Bridge.

“The movement of water, the traffic, any kind of movement is what I’m taking inspiration from,” according to Villareal.

Caltrans permitted the sculpture back in August 2012, and by September a solid six months of wiring work began. The first of the 25,000 lights were hung in October. The team behind Bay Lights has hung thousands of lights on 300 cables.

Each light is synced to software Villareal created so the sculpture follows a massive algorithm.

Starting in March, the sculpture will be fully viewable to San Francisco and northern areas of the Bay Area but won’t distract drivers on the bridge.