The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) today announced that it has sent letters to all 39 cities and towns offering to assume responsibility for local streetlights that are on state roads. This offer corrects 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.
RIDOT began looking at this problem in 2019 when the department assessed the cost of assimilating street lights that were installed by municipalities on state roads. RIDOT is converting its own lights from high pressure sodium to LED. When fully converted these lights will give RIDOT a cost savings of $865,000 annually. RIDOT will then turn to the 14,000 lights that municipalities have on state roads. RIDOT has determined it can use the cost savings from its own LED conversion to acquire the 14,000 lights 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," Governor 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 letters sent out to the municipalities, RIDOT said it was asking for ownership of the lights as a safety measure. "Once we own these lights," said RIDOT Director Peter Alviti, "we can make sure they are properly maintained and serviced which ensures that our roadways are well lit and safe for the travelling public."
Municipalities must meet certain conditions for RIDOT to assume responsibility for their lights:
1. The municipality must have purchased the streetlights from Narragansett Electric (National Grid). 2. The lights must have been converted to LED at the cost of the municipality. 3. Ownership must be converted to RIDOT free of cost. 4. Any existing attachment agreements must be assigned to RIDOT. 5. If the municipality has any third-party agreements for maintenance and upkeep, RIDOT will not assume those. 6. Lights must be free of any and all encumbrances. 7. RIDOT will not assume responsibility for floodlights serving property not owned by RIDOT. 8. All streetlights must be inspected to ensure they are in good working order. 9. Each city or town council must approve the transfer.
By requiring the municipalities to convert to LED before the transfer, RIDOT not only reduces energy costs for these lights, but also reduces the carbon footprint of the lights. In addition, it eliminates long standing issues of ownership and responsibility.
Over the decades, municipalities have installed streetlights on state roads sometimes with the consent of RIDOT and sometimes on their own. This had resulted in a hodgepodge of ownership and maintenance issues. "What we had was a longstanding issue with the wrong people paying the wrong bills for the wrong lights. Now we will be able to straighten it out," said Director Alviti.