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LED lights save Fort Smith $7,000 a month

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

Citywide LED traffic light conversions are saving Fort Smith close to $7,000 per month since completion, according to Traffic Control Superintendent Steve Kelton – considerable savings, but less than originally reported.

Kelton verified on Monday (Jan. 7) that the latest electric bill was “about $5,000,” down from an estimated $12,000 per month in 2006 when the conversions began.

While the $7,000 per month cost savings estimate is less than The City Wire reported in July 2011, the latest energy bill is in line with estimates from that time. (It was initially stated that electricity costs prior to LED conversion were $15,000 per month.)

As importantly for Kelton, the conversion has allowed traffic control personnel to work more efficiently.

“In prior years with the incandescents, we would change about 1,200 light bulbs per year. From July 2010 to July 2011, we changed 40 LEDs, and that was before we’d even completed our conversion,” Kelton said. “It has gotten us out of the street and the motoring public’s way. It’s safer for us and for them, since they (the lights) are brighter and easier to see. There’s just no downside to it other than the initial investment.”

That “initial investment” Kelton refers to was around $2,468 per intersection as of 2011. That amount covered the last remaining 64 traffic signals, which were funded by $158,000 in federal stimulus money.

Prior to those replacements, the city changed 85 traffic signals, which fluctuated in cost. Since the initial replacements occurred while LED lighting was still higher in cost, some ran the city as much as $7,000 with costs falling over time, Kelton said.

Assuming an average cost of $5,000 for the 85 signals completed without federal funding (a $425,000 total), the current rate of savings would replenish the city’s investment in approximately 5.5 years.

Replacement costs for an LED bulb are $75 to $80 per bulb but unlike incandescent bulbs, each LED has a “5- to 7-year warranty,” Kelton said, adding that the time savings allows the traffic control department to “do other tasks that we couldn’t do as regularly as we should have, because we were so busy changing light bulbs.”

“We’re more focused on preventive maintenance – cleaning lenses, tightening every screw or anchor bolt,” Kelton added.

The most commonly cited issues that arise with LED traffic lights include swaying signals attached to span wires and the lights freezing during harsh winter weather conditions. (LED lights do not grow hot enough to melt the ice.)

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Kelton acknowledged that span wires can be a problem, but said “Fort Smith is now completely span wire-free.” Additionally, he said the snowstorm on Dec. 25 had no negative effects, nor have any such issues been reported since the conversions began in 2006.

“It is a significant problem in northern parts of the country where they have big snows and lots of wind, though,” Kelton said.

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