Michigan’s innovative P3 freeway lighting LED upgrade project shows early savings


The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and its electricity supplier, DTE Energy, a Detroit-based diversified energy company, are hailing the initial success of MDOT’s innovative Public-Private Partnership (P3) program to upgrade freeway lighting.

When it was launched in August 2015, it was the USA’s first P3 project dedicated to freeway lighting, and involved an agreement to upgrade and maintain freeway lights in Detroit’s tri-county area, comprising Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. At the time, of the approximately 15,000 freeway lights in the Detroit metropolitan area, 87% were high-pressure sodium or metal halide fixtures, and only about 70% of the lights were working, due to fiscal constraints, multiple instances of copper theft, and other challenges. The P3 contract is over a 15-year time frame and required replacement of the outdated lights with energy-efficient LED lights in the first two years. The P3 contract mandates that 90% of the lights are operational after the first year, and 98% after the second year. The vendor is contractually obligated to monitor all lighting infrastructure, while identifying and repairing deficiencies.

The P3 vendor, Freeway Lighting Partners (FLP), is a consortium led by Star America Fund (project manager), with participation from Aldridge Electric (construction, operations and maintenance), Parsons Brinkerhoff (design), and Engie Services Group (asset management). Planning for this major freeway lighting project began April 2016 and installation of nearly 13,000 energy efficient LEDs was completed in November. The project included the installation of brighter, more energy efficient LED lighting on the metro area’s freeways, including I-94, I-75, I-96, I-696, I-375, M-59, the Lodge, and Southfield. The new LED systems are up to 70% more energy efficient, require less maintenance, and direct light more effectively.

In 2016, MDOT participated in DTE’s Energy Efficiency Business Program, through which DTE has already completed over 40,000 energy efficiency projects for more than 15,000 Michigan businesses, resulting in US$150m savings. DTE Energy joined MDOT to share results from the six-month partnership and reported a 65% reduction in energy use, while also resulting in better-lit and safer Michigan roads. The lighting upgrade is expected to save an estimated US$2m in energy costs in 2017. In a ceremony at MDOT’s Detroit Operations Center, DTE Energy’s vice president of business planning and development, Irene Dimitry, presented a US$1m rebate check to MDOT to help offset the cost of the department’s investment in energy efficiency improvements.

“We’re pleased MDOT could take advantage of our energy efficiency program to not only make our roads brighter and safer, but also save energy costs,” Dimitry said. “We encourage other businesses, government agencies and nonprofits to take advantage of our Energy Efficiency Business Program.”

MDOT director Kirk T Steudle noted, “Partnerships are essential to upgrade freeway lighting to maximize and save taxpayer dollars. We are grateful to our partners at DTE for including us in this incentive program, because well-lit freeways offer greater safety and security for the motoring public.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).