Flipping the switch: Lights on I-85 turned back on during design study

LAWRENCEVILLE - For months, maybe even years, people have talked about flipping a light switch to save a little energy and a little money.

Now, the government is getting in on the trend, but a new policy could save more than a little pocket change - about $180,000 per year.

Last month, officials switched off the power to light poles along Interstate 85 in an attempt to trim the county budget. A well-lit tunnel taking Sugarloaf Parkway under the interstate has also gone dark.

"We are looking for things to save money that wouldn't have dramatic impacts," Deputy Transportation Director Kim Conroy said of the decision.

The lights have gone back on, though, as officials look into whether recent interstate upgrades were designed with lighting in mind.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said a local jurisdiction agrees to pay for the lights before they are installed on interstates, but Transportation Director Brian Allen said the county has the option of turning them off with 30 days notice.

"Lighting is a safety issue," Pope said. "We want people to be able to see."

Allen said he got a call from the state after the I-85 lights were switched off because of the possibility that the lighting was a stipulation of a design modification when high occupancy vehicle lanes were added to the stretch.

The lighting poles have been on I-85 for two decades, although the system was enhanced during the recent rehabilitation of I-85 at Ga. Highway 316.

"We're willing to look at it," Allen said, adding that officials decided to turn the lights back on while they research the issue.

"But we've still got a budget issue we've got to deal with if it stays on for any length of time," he said.

Conroy said officials have also cut back on things such as dust control on unpaved roads to save money.

Few people have contacted the county about the situation, although Conroy said residents complained in the past about the expense of the Sugarloaf tunnel.

He said the structure was so well-lit in the past that drivers grumbled about the glare on their eyes on a dark night. So officials made a conscious choice over the past several years to not replace bulbs went they went out to reduce the glare.