Highway lights throughout area to be repaired, replaced

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published December 16, 2015

 A public-private partnership will replace approximately 15,000 older lights with LED lights.

A public-private partnership will replace approximately 15,000 older lights with LED lights.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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METRO DETROIT — The Michigan Department of Transportation is partnering with a consortium of private companies to replace aging or broken streetlights along the area’s major highways with new energy-efficient ones.

The Michigan Freeway Lighting Partners have contracted with MDOT in a public-private partnership, or P3, to finance and contract the replacement work. Over the next two years, those streetlights will be replaced along Interstates 94, 96, 75, 696 and 275 in Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties, MDOT spokesman Robert Morosi said, as well as M-10 and M-39.

“Right now in the tri-county area — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb — we have about 15,000 freeway lights, and at this point, 80 percent of those are working,” Morosi said. “We chose the P3 model because it offers us the ability to have capital improvements done.”

Most the lights that currently are not working cannot simply have the bulbs swapped, Morosi said. The poles may have structural problems due to age or damage, or they may have had copper wiring stolen at some point, and the others have outdated power equipment inside that can no longer be used.

Due to limited state funding for these kinds of projects, Morosi said a P3 arrangement with private funding was chosen out of “necessity” to get the work done. The agreement will require the Freeway Lighting Partners to maintain the lights for 13 years following the completion of the project.

Senior Project Manager Frank  Wichtner said the cost of the project to the private partners is $51.6 million, while they are estimating $2.7 million in annual savings when compared to the older lights. He did not know the state’s share of the project cost as of press time.

Wichtner added that this is one of the first P3 projects in the country handling freeway lighting, and that the consortium has received informational requests from communities in other states interested in following suit.

Wichtner said they are currently in the early stages of the two-year construction phase of the project, which should wrap up by October 2017.

Wichtner said about 14,090 lights will be replaced with new, energy-efficient light-emitting diode bulbs, while existing LED streetlights will be inspected to see if they need any repair work.

“Currently, because of weather, we’re limited on what we can do,” Wichtner said. “We’re doing the bare minimum work, so bolting and pole repair type of work is what we’re doing currently. Once the weather is better, we will be doing median and wall repairs.”

Where possible, he said, they want to reuse existing poles, so ultimately there should be an identical number of lights when the work is completed, with the lights located in the same spots. Poles that MDOT has deemed unsafe, damaged or outdated will be replaced.

Wichtner said that to foil copper thieves, aluminum will be used in the new lights’ design as much as possible, and new locks and security bolts will be put in place to keep people from accessing the wiring in the first place.

Beyond being more energy efficient, Wichtner said LEDs should be cheaper to maintain and have a longer life expectancy than the older bulbs. Motorists also ought to notice the difference during cloudy, foggy or rainy days, Wichtner said, as the light on the LEDs is focused downward toward the road, which should make it easier to see.

Similarly, light pollution is minimized with the new LED lights focused downward, and Wichtner said people who live or work around the interstates will no longer see overflow light sources.

Wichtner said motorists eventually will be able to get updates at the website www.michiganfreewaylighting.com to find out where work is being done and when — once the winter weather breaks and the bigger work starts.

The three companies in the consortium — Star America, Cofely Services and Aldridge Electric Co. — decided to work with MDOT on the project for security and safety reasons on the roads, Wichtner said, adding that P3 arrangements are being used more and more often.

“They’re becoming popular across the states and the world, and are a good investment in return (to the companies),” he said.

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