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June 30, 2009


DiNapoli: Updating Traffic Lights Can Save Localities

Millions of Taxpayer Dollars Across NYS

New York taxpayers could save millions if local governments switched traffic signal bulbs from incandescent to LED according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit found that the City of Binghamton, which replaced all incandescent bulbs with LEDs in 2002, has produced average annual savings of $49,800 since 2002. Binghamton is now paying 59 percent less for traffic signal operation than it did before 2002. The audit is part of DiNapoli’s ongoing efforts to help identify ways that local governments can save energy and reduce costs.

“Changing light bulbs may sound a little trivial, but there’s nothing trivial about saving millions of taxpayer dollars,” DiNapoli said. “Replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs is a leaner and greener way for local governments to operate their traffic signals. LED bulbs last longer and use less energy. This is an investment worth making. And federal stimulus money could be available to pay for the initial conversion.”

According to the audit, the City of Cortland and the Villages of Endicott and Johnson City still use incandescent bulbs for most of their traffic signals. If they replaced their remaining incandescents with LEDs, they could save more than $426,000 in electricity costs and avoid $78,800 in maintenance costs over a 10-year period. In addition to the dollar savings, these municipalities could also save approximately 244,134 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and avoid producing over 100 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Statewide, it’s estimated that if other municipalities converted their remaining traffic signals to LED bulbs, the municipalities and their taxpayers could collectively save $76.5 million in electricity and maintenance costs over 10 years. In addition to the dollar savings, municipalities statewide could also save approximately 43 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year (the equivalent of nearly 6,000 households) and avoid producing nearly 18,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Binghamton is also saving money on the labor costs involved in maintaining the traffic signals. Typically, an incandescent light bulb lasts for less than one year, necessitating annual replacement. An LED’s useful life is more than five times longer; Binghamton saved approximately four years of labor costs by replacing the incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs. Their average maintenance cost savings totaled over $3,000 annually.

Generally, incandescent traffic signals do not require any type of upgrade or retrofitting to accommodate LED replacements because the bulbs install just like the incandescent types. Although replacing LED bulbs does not require any specific upgrades to existing equipment, officials from one local government told DiNapoli’s auditors that installing LED bulbs would require replacing three outdated signal lamp housings at one intersection. DiNapoli’s audit noted that municipalities could take advantage of the potential for obtaining American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka federal stimulus) moneys to pay for the initial replacement.

DiNapoli recommended that local officials:

  • replace the incandescent bulbs in their traffic signals with LED bulbs to achieve energy and maintenance cost savings;
  • apply for ARRA funding through NYSERDA to pay for the initial costs of replacing incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs in traffic signal units; and
  • pursue environmentally friendly alternatives, such as using LED bulbs to light traffic signals, which can reduce both the cost and the environmental impact of municipal operations.

Click here for a copy of the audit. Also available online are audit letters DiNapoli sent to Binghamton, Cortland, Endicott and Johnson City officials.


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