West Allis gradually switches to LED streetlights
New lights more energy efficient than old sodium lights
West Allis - Lots of people remember how, decades ago, bright white streetlights chased the dark away from city streets.
Then along came the big switch to the warmer glow of the yellowish-pink, sodium-vapor, energy-efficient streetlights. And the streets had a more colorful nighttime look.
And now we are coming around full circle, back to new white LED lights that save even more energy than the sodium lights. In fact, they use about half as much energy as the sodium lights do, said Michael Lewis, director of the West Allis department of public works.
That's why residents will start seeing more and more of them as the city starts the slow process of switching over to LEDs. Not only do the LEDs use less energy but they last far longer, he said - 10 years, at least, compared with two or three years for the sodium.
"It means a lot in terms of efficiency and a lot in terms of maintenance," Lewis said.
After a pilot project, the city started installing the white LEDs at least two years ago, he said.
Last year, 56th Street around National Avenue got them, as did streets in the Orchard Hills area, he said.
This year, 76th Street from Beloit Road to Oklahoma Avenue will be among the thoroughfares getting back to white nights.
In fact, 76th will get the first LED bulbs that Lewis managed to land at bargain basement prices.
The state Department of Transportation bought a bunch of LED bulbs but found they weren't bright enough to meet its standards for lighting busy main streets.
"But they meet our standards," said Lewis, who snapped up the 68 lights for a mere $21,000, saving $10,000 in the bargain.
"These things aren't cheap," he acknowledged.
The changeover to more energy-efficient bulbs dovetails with the city's need to rewire its street lights because the type of cabling needed for the lights is getting harder to obtain, Lewis said.
That's because the cabling needed is designed for hooking up lights in series like Christmas tree lights used to be. And just like those old Christmas light strings, if one bulb goes out, the entire light string doesn't light, so entire blocks are affected if one light is dying. The expiring light draws power and a whole block can start to pulsate, he said.
Years ago, Lewis went out to Lincoln Avenue near Highway 100 one night to check out unbelievable complaints he was getting about lights flickering and making weird noises.
"I said I've got to see for myself," Lewis said.
What he found were pulsating streetlights and a sound like Martians landing, he said.
"It was pretty much the first time in my experience," said Lewis, who noted that most communities already had streetlights hooked up in parallel circuitry, where a bulb can burn out without affecting the others.
- Jane Ford-Stewart
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