Authorities skeptical about minister's highway light-dimming idea

A highway just outside Tallinn.
A highway just outside Tallinn. Source: ERR

Both the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) and the Transport Board (Transpordiamet have expressed caution about an idea proposed by Minister of Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) to reduce lighting on, for instance, highways, and also outside public buildings, in order to make savings on soaring energy bills.

Cuts in highway lighting would not only negatively impact on road safety, but would not even make significant savings, particularly when borne in mind that a longer-running, ongoing program to install LED lighting will make significant savings, in the long-term.

The PPA told ERR Friday that they have not been informed of any changes, making it difficult to comment on the government's plan.

PPA spokesperson Lt Col. Sirle Loigo said: "However, it can be said that if the lighting is turned off in those areas where pedestrians are also on the move, this will definitely affect traffic safety."

"Lighting makes pedestrians more visible and reduces the risk of being hit. In addition, it helps the PPA in ensuring security and increases the individual sense of security," Loigo went on.

In any case, it is not clear how and to what extent cutting down on lighting would even solve the problem it is aimed at.

The continued rising price of electricity would, mean a doubling of lighting budget even when following the new plan, the Transport Board's road building and maintenance department chief Andres Piibeleht told ERR – from €600,000 last year, to around a million this winter.

Piibeleht agreed that there should be no trade-off between road safety and lighting, adding that sections of road should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

The Transport Board has in any case been pressing on with replacing older sodium lights with LED lights – the latter consume around only a fifth of the amount of power as the former.

Since the replacement program was ongoing and took time, the overall payback would not be apparent for another five to six years.

At present, there are still around 4,000 sodium lamps lighting highways across Estonia, though the volume of LED lights now outstrips that, at around 7,000.

Ultimately, neither the authority nor local government should make hasty decisions on matters where lives may be at stake, just for the sake of saving money.

Furthermore, while it might seem in poor taste to state, the bottom line is that the financial cost to society of one road traffic fatality, comes to around two million euros, Piibeleht said.

"By reducing or even darkening the lighting, we achieve a direct financial effect, but it is a serious point of consideration for both the Transport Board and also to municipalities, how much we can save on lighting so that traffic safety does not suffer significantly," Piibeleht added.

The Transport Board in any case started partly turning of road lighting in March, at a time when the nights are starting to get shorter, though only between midnight and 5 a.m. and in areas where this would have a minimal effect on road safety.

This had led to about €30,000 in savings so far, Piibeleht said.

Riina Solman announced the proposal to reduce highway lighting at this week's regular government Thursday press conference, adding that this would certainly not be done at the expense of road safety.

Tallinn City Government says it has no plans to cut street lighting – a measure which has been taken in the past – and is also forging ahead with the transition to LED lighting.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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