Metro freeways to get new lights over next 2 years

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Metro Detroit freeways will shine a little brighter in the coming months as roughly 15,000 overhead lights will be replaced with LED bulbs.

Major sections of Interstates 94,75, 96, 275, M-39 and the John C. Lodge freeway will get new lights starting as early as April under a $123 million public-private partnership.

“We are working on an aggressive schedule in order to make repairs and replace all of the lights in the next two years,” said Charlie Stein, innovative contracts and project manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Stein said the 15-year contract will cost a total of $142 million once $19 million in energy costs are figured in. About half, or $77 million, will come from the federal government.

The upgrades are expected to save the state $60 million over the course of the 15-year contract.

The companies involved are Aldridge Electric, based in Illinois, Cofely Services based in Canada and New York-based firms BlackRock Infrastructure, Star America Fund and Parsons Brinckerhoff.

It’s unclear where the upgrades will begin or end, but commuters won’t have to worry about construction traffic.

“The majority of the work will be done during off peak hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.,” Stein said. “If the weather breaks, it’s a possibility that we can start in March, but it’s hard to tell right now.”

While light-emitting diode or LED lights are more expensive, they have a longer lifespan — five to eight years — compared to high pressure sodium lights, which have a life span of two to five years that are used now in many of the area’s freeway lights.

“We estimated that the state would have to shell out $183 million to replace the old light bulbs, which is reasonably higher than the contract,” Stein said of sticking with sodium lights. “Energy consumption costs would be lower and there would be less light pollution if we upgrade the old lighting system.”

In the past two years, many cities have made the switch to LED lights, including Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Portland and Raleigh.

Many reasons for the upgrade include cutting down on light pollution. Over time, high pressure sodium lights can reflect in many directions causing glare and poor lighting. LED lights are mounted inside of a reflective cavity, which focuses the light and keeps it from scattering.

James Baron, spokesman for the American Traffic Safety Services Association, said poor lighting is one of the main causes of accidents on freeways.

“Most roadways in America are old and are in need of constant repair,” he said. “Just by updating the lighting system, overall visibility for motorists is improved including better lighting to see the signs and exits, which is especially important for older drivers.”

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