LEDs slash Tupelo’s bill for traffic lights

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Better traffic-signal visibility and deep cost savings are driving a citywide project to convert Tupelo’s 652 traffic lamps to LED lights.
Now in its fourth year, the ongoing effort has replaced 64 percent of the city’s incandescent traffic-signal bulbs with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
LEDs shine brighter, last longer and require fewer maintenance calls than their incandescent predecessors. They also perform better than regular bulbs when hit with glare-producing sunlight.
And they cost about 90 percent less.
Before the conversion began, the city was paying nearly $52,000 a year to keep its traffic signals illuminated.
The bill has since shriveled to about $22,000 annually and will drop to roughly $5,200 by the time the project ends in about two or three years.
“It’s been a positive move for us,” said Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons, who spearheaded the effort with a $50,000 annual budget allocation from the City Council.
The money allows his crew to replace about 100 bulbs a year. Traffic signals that racked up the most sun-glare complaints got converted first; not surprisingly, they’re the lights at intersections along the city’s east-west streets.
Signals in high-traffic areas got second priority. And any incandescent bulb that burns out, no matter where its signal’s location, gets replaced with an LED version on the spot.
“If I had to do it over again, I’d have asked for $75,000 to $100,000 a year,” Timmons said. “It has been so successful.”
TW&L has done all the work in-house to save money it otherwise would have spent on an outside contractor. In all, it will have cost taxpayers about $325,000 for the entire conversion.
It will take about seven years for the city to recoup its investment through energy savings.
Although cost benefits are significant, Timmons said he sees the biggest impact on maintenance calls – they’re non-existent with the LED lights.
“We have a two-man crew that runs the city all day keeping the 89 intersections of traffic lights up and running,” he said. “We used to get two or three work orders every morning, but on the intersections we’ve done, we haven’t had to go back to them anymore.”
Incandescent traffic-light bulbs are nearly identical to those in the home, yet they’re exposed to outdoor elements year-round. Timmons said every storm or high wind triggers a flurry of traffic light outages, usually because of damage to the bulbs’ fragile filaments.
LEDs have no filaments. And because they consist of a cluster of diodes – like a bunch of tiny Christmas lights packed together behind the lens – if one goes out, the rest continue to shine.
After the conversion is complete, Timmons said, he hopes the city will install solar panels to power the lights. It’s an option unthinkable for incandescent lamps because of their voracious energy needs. But LEDs require much less power and can comfortably feed on sunlight, he said.
“It’s the way of the future,” Timmons said.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.