Town could reap big savings if RIDOT takes over streetlights

Town could reap big savings if RIDOT takes over streetlights

CUMBERLAND – The town of Cumberland could see significant savings if the Rhode Island Department of Transportation takes over streetlights on state-owned roads, say officials. Mayor Jeff Mutter, who told The Breeze that nothing has been finalized yet, said that if everything goes according to plan, the town could save between $50,000 to $75,000 by relinquishing responsibility of the lights to the state. He noted those are ballpark figures at the moment, as town officials are discussing logistics with RIDOT and PRISM Streetlights, the third-party provider.

“Obviously if we were to get the same level of service and save money by DOT picking up the energy, certainly we would want to enter that agreement,” he said.

Last month the RIDOT announced that it would be taking over ownership of streetlights on state-owned roads in local municipalities, correcting “a decades-old legacy issue of uncertainty about which public entity is responsible for lights on state roads that are within city or town borders,” according to a press release.

In Cumberland, there are 767 streetlights on state-owned roads: 16 on Albion Road, 44 on Angell Road, 61 on Broad Street, 11 on Chambers Street, 15 on Dexter Street, 128 on Diamond Hill Road, 63 on High Street, 16 on John Street, 12 on Little Pond County Road, 19 on Manville Hill Road, 18 on Marshall Avenue, 214 on Mendon Road, 64 on Nate Whipple Highway, 21 on Pine Swamp Road, 11 on Sneech Pond Road, 44 on West Wrentham Road, and 10 on Wrentham Road, according to a breakdown from RIDOT to Mutter.

That 767 figure, according to Mutter, represents between 20 to 25 percent of total streetlights in town.

In a letter sent to each of the 39 municipalities in the state, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti said the organization is asking for ownership of the streetlights as a safety measure. “Once we own these lights, we can make sure they are properly maintained and serviced, which ensures that our roadways are well lit and safe for the traveling public,” he said.

In 2019, RIDOT began investigating the problem “when the department assessed the cost of assimilating street lights that were installed by municipalities on state roads,” states the press release.

Using cost savings of $865,000 annually after turning its own lights from high pressure sodium to LED, RIDOT officials said it can then acquire the 14,000 lights owned by municipalities across the state and maintain them provided that municipalities first convert them to LED. The anticipated cost to maintain those lights is approximately $845,000 annually.

“Allowing RIDOT to assume responsibility for streetlights on state roads in our 39 cities and towns is a smart move for public safety, the environment, and municipalities,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “Well maintained and properly serviced LED streetlights illuminate roadways for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, and are a cost-efficient way to transition to a low-carbon economy. RIDOT’s initiative also allows municipalities to save money on streetlight maintenance that they can allocate elsewhere.”

In order for RIDOT to assume responsibility of the lights, municipalities must meet certain criteria, including having purchased streetlights from Narragansett Electric (National Grid). The lights must also have been converted to LED at the cost of the municipality, and ownership must be converted to RIDOT free of cost. Each city or town council must also approve the transfer.

Mutter said the lights in Cumberland are already LED.

When asked if he had any idea of where the savings would go, Mutter said he’s rather conservative and didn’t want to hazard a guess. “There are plenty of needs (and) plenty of wants,” he said, noting that it could go toward another expense and lower the overall financial burden of the town.