Officials not sure if LED street lights are a bright idea

Port board decides to forge ahead, but cautiously
Ozaukee Press Staff

Port Washington officials are moving cautiously on a proposal to replace the high-sodium light bulbs in streetlights along North Wisconsin Street with LED light.

The Board of Public Works decided April 10 to move ahead with the project, but left it up to city staff members to determine how many of the lights will be changed this year.

“I’m cautious about this,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “Mark (Grams, city administrator) and I remember the lighting issues on Franklin Street downtown.”

Lighting in downtown was the subject of much debate when it was redone following the reconstruction of Franklin Street, he said, noting first people believed it was too bright and, after changes were made, too dim.

Lighting has also been an issue on South Spring Street, with many people complaining it is too bright, he said. 

The city has installed three LED lights along Franklin Street on St. Mary’s Hill as a test, and Street Commissioner J.D. Hoile said there is a difference between these lights and the other, high-pressure sodium bulbs there.

“The question is, is there a big enough difference we’re going to be unhappy?” Hoile said.

“It just looks less yellow,” board member Eric Ryer said.

Ald. Mike Gasper, a board member, said the LED bulbs cast a light that’s comparable in color to the incandescent bulbs used in many homes.

“I don’t think they’re quite as bright (as the existing streetlights), but I don’t think that’s a problem because I think we’re over-lit there,” he added.

Ald. Paul Neumyer, who’s also on the board, said the lights are an improvement.

“We have a lot of people walking at night now,” he said, and better lighting is desireable.

Board members debated whether to replace the existing lights along Wisconsin Street with LED bulbs when they burn out or whether to replace all the lights at once. They also considered replacing the lights along a few blocks at a time.

Hoile noted the work is relatively minor for the street department crew. It requires the city to remove the existing bulb and ballast and wire in the new LED bulb.

The estimated cost to replace all the bulbs on North Wisconsin Street is about $20,000, Hoile said, adding they are estimated to save the city 75% of the energy cost.

Vanden Noven said the bulb supplier has offered to finance the replacement program.

“If you do this all at once, the payback is pretty quick, about 18 months,” he said.

“Other than the initial hit, it makes sense to do it all at once,” Gasper said.

Ald. John Sigwart, a board member, asked whether there is a secondary market for the bulbs and ballasts if the city were to replace all the lights at once.

“We could put them on eBay,” Gasper said.

If the board wants to replace all the lights at once, Vanden Noven said he would get proposals or bids from several vendors.

Board member Jason Wittek asked how long the conversion would take if the city waited for the existing lights to burn out.

There’s no way to tell, Vanden Noven said, noting the existing ballasts are supposed to last 20 years but both they and the bulbs are beginning to burn out now.

LED bulbs can last as long as 20 years, Hoile said.

Although the board agreed to move ahead with the conversaion “at a pace the staff is comfortable with,” Sigwart said. Vanden Noven said he will ask the Common Council for input given the past issues with lighting in the community.


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