At least one traffic light fitted with light-emitting diodes in Bay County has suffered from whiteout, obscuring the signal to motorists, local officials say.
Since Leds don’t give off enough heat to melt snow, storms that blow white, sticky snow can cover the lights, requiring them to be cleared by electric crews.
“It’s definitely an issue,” said Jim Lillo, engineer-manager for the Bay County Road Commission.
“It did happen to us once last year,” on Mackinaw Road, at the entrance to Delta College.
Lillo said he expects it to happen again with blowing snow and advises motorists to proceed with caution if they can’t see a light.
Sometimes, good things have a downside. Such is the case with led lights, which shine brighter than traditional bulbs, last longer and use less electricity — but can become covered by snow.
“Treat it as a four-way (stop sign) until we get somebody out there,” he said.
Beginning about two years ago, the Road Commission started replacing 34 of its lights with LEDs, including 22 flashing beacons and 12 traffic lights. The agency is generally happy with the new lights, since they’ve cut electricity costs by up to 90 percent, Lillo said. The switch involved replacing 120- to 150-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs.
Last year, the Road Commission estimated a savings of up to $40,000 a year with LEDs, compared with its old system. Lillo didn’t have updated figures last week.
Lillo said the county’s contract with J. Ranck Electric of Mount Pleasant includes maintenance on the LEDs and clearing of snow when necessary.
A Ranck Electric official couldn’t be reached for comment. The company bought out a 10-year, $16,000-per-year maintenance contract for the LEDs from Aldis Corp. in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which sold the lights to the Road Commission.
Lillo said the Road Commission can’t send its own crews to clear snow from obscured LEDs because “it’s a liability thing once you mix electricity with a bucket truck.”
In other parts of the country, there have been traffic crashes blamed on snowed-over LEDs.
Suggested solutions to the problem include heated light covers, but those can negate the savings from the energy-efficient LEDs, according to a post at TreeHugger.com and other news reports.