Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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Burnt out streetlights leave drivers in the dark

State in no hurry to replace dead bulbs along local highways

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Lately, local highways have appeared especially dark for nighttime drivers.

That’s because dozens of streetlights are out along the corridors.

Vancouver resident Tim Bias counted nearly 50 dead lights on Interstate 5 through Vancouver.

The Washington State Department of Transportation plans to replace them eventually. But, unless they’re in a particularly important location, it probably won’t happen any time soon.

“If they’re at an onramp or a curve or merge, we’ll reinstall new lights to maintain the current system,” said WSDOT Spokeswoman Tamara Greenwell. Otherwise, WSDOT plans to let burnt out lights be just that — until funding comes from Olympia to replace them with new fixtures.

Statewide, WSDOT is upgrading its highway light systems to LEDs, which last longer and are more efficient than the high-pressure sodium bulbs that are out there today. It’s already happened in parts of the southern Puget Sound region, but the state hasn’t determined when it will begin to replace them in Southwest Washington.

In the meantime, lights that go out will likely stay out, unless they’re in a location where safety is paramount. That’s because the cost of maintaining existing lights is about the same as replacing them with more efficient models. The agency has also installed new highway signs and uses striping paint that reflects light with greater intensity than those of previous years.

“A lot of (light) poles will eventually be taken down, but the money for the replacement system isn’t there yet, so we’re focusing on maintaining the current system as efficiently as possible,” Greenwell said.

In general, LED streetlights use about 60 percent less energy than high-pressure sodium bulbs that were once the industry standard.

The agency started down this path around 2014 when the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee directed it to study how it could reduce energy use, improve energy efficiency and conservation, and figure out how to reduce light pollution while ensuring safety in the highway system.

From there, WSDOT studied how lighting related to nighttime collisions and started reducing the amount of light on state highways — especially in areas where there were continuous lighting systems.

In other regions where the lights have been replaced, WSDOT has taken out bonds to cover the cost of replacement and paid them off with money it saved on energy use. The agency also received utility credits against future energy use.

It’s possible something like that could happen here, but when is not clear.

“They’re working on it, but nothing is scheduled,” Greenwell said.

Dameon Pesanti: 360-735-4541; dameon.pesanti@columbian.com; twitter.com/dameonoemad

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