LED traffic lights: A wintry hazard


To the editor:

This past week, the Alexandria City Council announced that the City of Alexandria’s share of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package would come to around $16 million dollars. 

“I realize that $16 million might not seem like a lot of money, but it’s $16 million we wouldn’t have had otherwise, and it’s being put to good use,” Mayor Bill Euille said.

One of the projects to be funded with a portion of the $16 million dollars is the replacement of the incandescent traffic light bulbs with LED bulbs. While I am all in favor of energy conservation, there’s one glaring problem with this project that needs to be addressed.

Many municipalities across the country have switched to the LED bulbs in their traffic lights because they use 90 percent less energy than the old incandescent variety, lasting far longer and reducing energy costs. Unfortunately, their greatest asset is also their greatest liability: Energy is conserved while heat production is reduced.

LED traffic lights are not necessarily safer than the current incandescent traffic light bulbs because the LED bulbs do not burn hot enough to melt snow off of the traffic lights during a snowstorm, obscuring the colors of the traffic lights. This hazard has been blamed for dozens of traffic accidents across the country and at least one death.

As a result, some communities are testing possible solutions including: installing weather shields, adding heating elements like those used in airport runway lights (how much energy does that save?) or coating the traffic lights with water-repellent substances. Some cities, like Green Bay, fix this problem by removing the snow from the LED traffic lights by hand. 

Again, how much energy does that save?

If you have to have a person remove the snow from LED traffic lights by hand, you could leave the old traffic lights in place; thereby avoiding the need to clear off the ice and snow (and thus saving the energy required to do so).

Our kids, like my soon-to-be two-year-old, are going to be responsible for paying this money back in the future. Clearly, they deserve for the Alexandria City Council to be a better steward of their money and we citizens do, too. Given the winter we had in 2010, and with subsequent winters expected to be just as bad, does this really sound like a project where the money is being put to good use?

Lee Hernly