TACLOBAN CITY — The San Juanico Bridge, the country’s longest, will be the first in the Philippines to have a new nighttime face with the approval of an PHP80-million budget to illuminate the 2.16-km. structure this year.

Transforming the 45-year-old bridge would draw more visitors to Samar and Leyte provinces and attract tourism-related business in the area, Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan, the project proponent, said Friday.

Work will start soon after the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) approved the proposal.

The government is eyeing to complete the project on Nov. 8, in time for the fifth anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

“This is a big leap for Samar – the lighting of the San Juanico Bridge – as we are looking for an asset that will not only entice locals and tourists alike, but also boast of an improvement of an iconic national link,” Tan said during the Spark Samar Travel Fair 2018 held at the SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City Friday.

Karen Sarinas-Baydo, head technical assistant of TIEZA Chief Operating Officer Pocholo Joselito D. Paragas, said all members of the TIEZA board approved the proposal last January, citing its contribution to tourism growth, similar to European countries with illuminated bridges.

“We believe this is the first bridge in the Philippines to be lit. The design is patterned after some iconic bridges in the world,” Baydo said.

The project will use light-emitting diode, one of today’s most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies.

Aside from static lights at nights, there would be a five-minute feature of spectacular lighting effects. The bridge will be closed five minutes every night for the safety of motorists during the show.

“These are specifically manufactured lights for bridges. The project will take into consideration the bridge condition and vulnerability of the place to natural calamities,” Baydo added.

Just like other shows, its colors will be in support of various events throughout the year, the lighting will also be programmed to celebrate special occasions, Tan said.

Samar’s provincial government will also build a boardwalk for a perfect view of the show and provide music. Tan encourages investors to put up shops nearby.

Tan shared the idea on illuminating the iconic bridge to Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Romualdez, Regional Development Council chairperson, in an effort to add vibrancy and interest to nightime tourism.

At present, tourists can enjoy daytime activities at the San Juanico Bridge through the tour packages offered by private operator, Aqua momentum.

The bridge’s transformation would be a new attraction under the Spark Samar, a branding campaign initially launched in 2015.

Once called the Marcos Bridge, the San Juanico Bridge was built in August 1969 over the San Juanico Strait, the narrowest navigational strait in the world that separates Samar and Leyte Islands and was completed in December 1972.

The bridge that spans 2.162 km. was built as part of the Pan-Philippine Highway now called the Maharlika Highway, a network of roads, bridges, and sea routes that connect the  islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. (PNA-Sarwell Meniano and Roel Amazona )