POSTED ON JULY 28, 2010:
Turn Off the Dark
City officials plan to turn on highway lights this week
Light at the Entrance Ramp. “As far as getting them back on, people think it’s like a light switch in a house, and it’s not,” said Dan Crossland, deputy director of public facilities. “We’ve got 105 circuits in the highway lighting system inside the city limits, and each one of those has to have somebody physically go down there and turn those circuits back on.”
Under a plan being worked on by the city's Public Works Department, most, if not all, of Tulsa's long-darkened highway lights should be turned back on by Monday, Aug. 2.
Dan Crossland, deputy director of public facilities for the city, said the details were still being worked out. But he indicated the $263,000 the City Council recently targeted for the lights in a supplemental appropriation, combined with highway and street lighting money that already had been budgeted, made it likely that motorists would have to drive down dark highways in the city for only a few more days.
"We're looking at the funds available versus the cost," he said. "We'll certainly get as many of them on as we can. It's a fine line at the very end, and we're seeing where that money will go. But we should have them all or (virtually all of them) back on."
If a few lights have to be left off, he said, a decision would be made as to which ones were more strategically important than others.
The lights have been dark since October 2009, when city officials decided to turn them off as a cost-saving measure to help balance the city budget.
District 5 City Councilor Chris Trail, who led the push to get the supplemental appropriation passed, said he was aware of the plan to get the lights back on by the start of the month. But he said he was confused about the timing, adding that Charles Hardt, the city's Public Works director, recently told councilors some of the lights could be back on in as little as 24 hours, and that all of them could be on within 48 hours.
"I don't know if the administration (of Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.) knows that," Trail said. "They don't talk to me, so I don't know what they think."
Crossland acknowledged the confusion that existed over the issue and offered an explanation for it.
"As far as getting them back on, people think it's like a light switch in a house, and it's not," he said. "We've got 105 circuits in the highway lighting system inside the city limits, and each one of those has to have somebody physically go down there and turn those circuits back on."
Crossland said each of those circuits was being tested in anticipation of the Aug. 1 start date for reactivating the system, which is expected to take two days to complete.
"We don't really anticipate a big problem," he said. "But we're checking them, trying to keep up with them."
Crossland said he didn't know how many highway lights are included in the city's system.
"They vary with type and wattage," he said. "Each has its own cost associated with it."
Another factor that led the Public Works staff to target Aug. 1 for a resumption of highway lighting is that the city was told that was the preference of Public Service Company of Oklahoma officials.
"PSO prefers starting them at the beginning of a pay cycle, or they would have to go back and do an adjustment," Crossland said.
Public Works officials were agreeable to that, he said, because they thought they could put the extra few days to good use by conducting a thorough check of the system before reactivating it.
Trail said he had been told the money the council appropriated to turn the lights back on would fund the system's operation for seven months, but Crossland indicated they likely will be on for longer than that. The $263,000 in the supplemental appropriation will be combined with the $879,000 already included in the city budget to create a total of more than $1.1 million. Of that total, $672,000 has been earmarked for street lighting in the city -- which never was turned off, Crossland pointed out -- leaving approximately $470,000 for highway lighting. He said that should be enough to keep the lights on for 11 months.
"I think we've got a really good chance," he said.
Trail said one of the ideas behind the council's supplemental appropriation for the lights was that, during that seven-month period, the city staff would explore cost-cutting or money-saving ideas in regard to how the lights were operated in an attempt to keep them on beyond that point.
"Terry Simonson (Bartlett's chief of staff) had talked about ways we could use more energy-efficient lighting to cut costs by half," Trail said.
He also cited the possibility that the lights could be turned off beyond a certain time each night, an approach the city of Los Angeles has used to cut costs.
"If we use them half the time, do we save half the money?" Trail asked. "We'd have seven months to find a more efficient way to do it."
Trail said Hardt told councilors his priority would be to get the lights on Interstate 44 turned back on first, along with the lights on the Broken Arrow Expressway. The lack of lighting on those roadways, in particular, has become a big safety issue, Trail said.
"I get calls and e-mails about the lights being off weekly," he said. "It's something the citizens have demanded weekly. It's something that seems to be very important to them, and that makes it important to me."
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