Bay Bridge Lights on the Fritz

Founder of the ambitious art project didn't anticipate this many problems

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Tuesday, Jun 4, 2013  |  Updated 12:02 PM PDT
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Founder of the ambitious art project didn't anticipate this many problems. Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

Founder of the ambitious art project didn't anticipate this many problems. Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

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Those twinkling, gyrating, shape-shifting lights on the Bay Bridge have gone renegade. Or maybe there’s just a ghost messing with the works.

Whatever the cause, hundreds of lights in artist Leo Villareal’s 1.8 mile light sculpture on the bridge have started malfunctioning.

Problems with the dancing light display, which officially launched in early March, have grown worse throughout the month of May, organizers said.       

Strips of lights have stayed on when they should be off, while others have gone dark when they should be on.

Bay Lights founder Ben Davis said organizers expected ongoing maintenance issues – but the new problems go beyond expectations.

“This is all part of the learning process,” Davis said, “when you take on one of the most ambitious public art projects in the world.”

The $8 million dollar project has attracted visitors from around the world, who’ve timed visits to see the two-year light display. Davis said his group, Illuminate the Arts, plans to leave the lights running while it troubleshoots the problem.  

“People in the Bay Area are familiar with troubleshooting aps,” Davis said. “As hard as that is, imagine trouble shooting an entire bridge.”

Davis said there are theories wind, salt air and the constant vibration of traffic may have affected the 25,000 LED lights strung across the bridge’s western span.

He said his team is still trying to diagnose the problem and determine a timeline for repairs.

Organizers are still trying to collect the last $1.5 million of the $8 million project. Davis said the work may exceed the current maintenance budget and create a need for more fundraising.

Many observers may not even notice the problem. Chrissy Towle, who works on the Embarcadero and often sees the display at night, didn’t even realize something was amiss. 

“I have not noticed that they’re out,” Towle said. “So I guess it doesn’t seem like that big of a problem.”

But Davis noticed, and is concerned. He said he wants to see the lights fixed as soon as possible and expected a timeline for repairs in a matter of days.  

“We ask for your tolerance and your joy and love as you look at this work,” Davis said. “Knowing there’s  a team that’s dedicated to making it as right as we possibly can, as soon as we possibly can.”

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