Snow-Covered Traffic Signals Create Travel Problems

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Road crews are not just battling slippery spots on the pavement, but snow-covered lights in the city.

Traffic signals are becoming covered up during certain winter storms. It's a relatively new issue that came along with new technology. For years the city has been installing new LED or energy efficient lights into all of the traffic signals around town.

When it comes to snow storms, the new lighting technology is putting crews to work.

Joseph Kovacs spent his day on Wednesday in a bucket truck. He towered over the traffic below, battling the conditions to reach the tops of the traffic signals.

"With the snow, since it's so wet today, it's actually sticking to the lenses and you have to get them cleaned off to protect the motoring public," Kovacs said.

City traffic engineers said the signals have become a significant issue during some winter storms. The reason is that over time city workers have installed more LED bulbs into the traffic signals.

"It is a large energy savings for the community," said Cedar Rapids Associate Traffic Engineer Jon Resler. "The drawback is the snow does not melt well. On incandescent light bulbs, the old signal indications, they would generate enough heat that the snow would melt. With LEDs we don't get that heat anymore."

"The top of the red ones, they are about 70 - 80 percent covered, so that's a dangerous situation when people can't see the red indication," Kovacs said.

Traffic crews toured the lights around town, stopping to clean the ones plugged up with snow.

"You need to know if you need to stop or go and you need to know if you are seeing red or yellow or green," Resler said.

Using a basic window scraper and a bucket truck, Kovacs knows more drivers are safe after his hard day at work. But with this new-found problem, the workers are also getting a bit creative.

"You can clean more lenses if you don't have a bucket truck," Resler said. "So, our staff have developed a telescoping pole and taped a toilet brush to the pole to clean the lenses."

The city said the benefit of saving more than $100,000 a year with the energy-efficient traffic lighting, makes it worth cleaning them off every once in a while. They know it's also vital to do the work to keep traffic moving along.
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