ELYRIA — When the city installed high-wattage lights on state Route 57 in 2009 as a part of a $20 million reconstruction project, it likely didn’t think it would still be talking about those lights eight years later.
However, the lights are coming back into the spotlight with a discussion by city officials about possibly replacing the bulbs with more energy-efficient LED lights or even moving the poles as they are often the unintended targets of motorists.
Larry Showalter, senior manager of the Communications Department, wants the bulb heads replaced with LEDs to limit the need for replacement. Showalter suggested the city tap the Issue 6 fund for the expense, which could come to about $112,200 for 330 fixtures at $340 each.
“Right now, we have to replace the lights every two years, but with LED lights you are looking at 20 years before you have to replace a bulb or a head,” he said. “I want to reduce the need for staff to go out and change the bulbs biennially, which is a very dangerous job.”
Safety-Service Director Mary Siwierka said LED lights would be brighter and improve visibility on the road making the expense eligible for Issue 6 funding as a road improvement project. City Council is being asked to decide if it supports the plan and would like to see the revenue used in such a way.
“With the energy savings that can be recouped from replacing the lights, the city would get back the cost in five years,” Siwierka said Showalter has estimated. “This is about $22,000 less a year the city would pay in electricity costs.”
Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large and head of the Finance Committee, said his committee will bounce the idea to Council because each member should be allowed to comment on how the temporary income tax is used before a decision.
Before Council moves on the idea, city Engineer Tim Ujvari said he would like time to look into the cost and logistics behind moving some of the light poles.
“That is something that should be considered before talking about replacing to use LEDs,” he said. “If the poles are hit, there is a good chance the bulb would be broken as well.”
When installed, the idea was motorists who knocked down the pricey light poles would pay for replacements. But city officials said in practice very few people are buying into the “you-break-you-buy” concept and the city is paying for nearly all of the repairs.
The lights are city owned and operated because the poles are not regulation Ohio Edison poles, so they are under the purview of the city to maintain, Siwierka said. The ones chosen for the thoroughfare are slimmer and shorter than standard poles.
“Changing out the reconfiguration, I’m sure, would be extremely expensively,” she said. “Tim Ujvari will try to come up with a ballpark (amount) for Council.”
Councilman Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, called the poles “sitting ducks.”
“More and more, you hear people complaining that they are not just down, but being down for so long,” he said. “I would like to see something done so they are not such easy targets and go down so easily.”
Showalter said there are about four poles down in the city right now, and it takes between 10 and 12 weeks to replace as they are manufactured as needed. The cost to replace one light pole is about $8,000.
The light poles went up in the summer of 2009 along the five-mile stretch of Route 57 between Lorain Boulevard and Chestnut Ridge Road when the thoroughfare underwent a major reconstruction.
However, the project quickly drew criticism for then-Mayor Bill Grace’s spending money. Of the project’s total $20.1 million cost, $2.4 million was spent on landscaping and lighting, with the city contributing $42,000 toward landscaping and $159,000 for lighting.
State and federal money picked up the rest.