The Latest in Transportation Project Lighting

Based on figures from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va., the market for roadway fixtures is growing at about 5 to 6 percent a year.

According to David B. Smith, product general manager for lighting systems at GE Consumer and Industrial Lighting in Hendersonville, N.C., growth in the transportation lighting market is steady. This can be attributed to increased populations, security concerns, and the continued growth and maintenance of the transportation infrastructure.

“In addition, the federal government is pumping money into the public transportation sector, increasing the lighting at bus and train stations to increase safety and security and promote the use of public transportation,” said Ed Morel, tunnel transit specialist for Lumec-Schreder, Chicago. Other factors that contribute to the continued growth of the transportation lighting market include low interest rates, high material prices, the shift to metal halide lamp technology, a growing demand for full cutoff-rated lighting solutions and an increased national sensitivity to good security lighting on roads, bridges, at airports and on military installations.

Technological and market trends

“There has been a definite shift away from high-pressure sodium lamps to metal halide for the whiter color, more stable performance, and higher output,” said Barry Howell, manager, market development for American Electric Lighting, sister company of Lithonia Lighting and part of the Acuity Lighting Group Inc., Atlanta.

In addition, pulse-start metal halide lamps offer transportation lighting projects increased efficiency, longer life and better color rendition. According to Wayne Compton, vice president and general manager at Hubbell Lighting's Architectural Outdoor Lighting Group, demand for metal halide has grown from 40 percent of sales to 80 percent.

“It's not just that metal halide offers more efficiency, but end-users and the public just don't care anymore for the yellow light of high-pressure sodium sources,” Compton said.

Induction lamp lighting for use in signs on roads, bridges and in tunnels has been gaining popularity.

“Induction lamps have up to 100,000 hours of life, compared to the 25,000 hours offered by high-intensity discharge (HID) lamp sources,” said Smith.

Mercury HID sign lighting typically has input watts of 205, while an induction lamp's input wattage is 85, creating a savings of 120 watts.

Induction lamps, according to Morel, are best suited where the control of light is not important, such as tunnel interiors, or where maintenance is difficult and needs to be kept to a minimum.

“A selection of high-wattage electronic HID ballast systems are nearing commercial introduction in 2005,” said Patrick Walker, marketing manager for commercial outdoor and roadway products at Cooper Lighting, Peachtree City, Ga.

These systems promise significant energy savings over traditional magnetic ballast technology, while increasing lamp life by as much as 50 percent.

“Another exciting technology on the horizon is PC-based site monitoring software that will allow real-time visibility of individual road, bridge and tunnel luminaires' operating conditions across an entire site, providing valuable insight for planning future maintenance schedules,” Walker said.

Lighting controls have made their own advancements, as well.

“The electronic photo control has taken over the transportation lighting market,” said Howell.

Electronic photo controls are more reliable than mechanical controls and provide higher energy savings and less consumption. They also conserve energy by allowing programming of lighting levels based on time, usage and demand.

“The most exciting advancement of lighting controls for transportation projects is remote monitoring and controls capabilities,” said Smith.

This ability allows the user to gather information about light usage, fixture or photocell malfunctions, and lamp cycles, which means less field diagnostics and maintenance. Web-enabled communications technology provides remote access to the information, downloaded directly through the Internet.

Higher-efficiency T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps have increased lumen output and, when tied in with electronic controls, provide the opportunity to design more compact luminaires. Tunnels and underpasses built in the late 1950s and early 1960s have lower clearances, which require slimmer replacement luminaires.

“These light sources fit well into those designs,” Morel said.

The entire process of painting and finishing fixtures has improved with new surface preparation technologies and materials, promoting the protection of the luminaire from corrosion and increasing its longevity and aesthetic value.

Owners of transportation projects like to take advantage of modern luminaires so that their airports, bridges and train stations look modern and progressive.

“The trend away from traditional luminaires is being driven by the desire to equate transportation to something that's modern and constantly improving,” said Compton.

The same demand for high-end, aesthetic and decorative luminaires is being seen in high-end residential neighborhood and in cities that are attempting to revitalize downtown areas. According to NEMA, the decorative outdoor lighting market grew 18 percent in 2004.

Star light, star bright

The International Dark-Sky Association was founded with the goals of stopping the adverse environmental impact on dark skies by increasing light pollution awareness.

Members want to educate everyone on the value and effectiveness of quality nighttime lighting and to allow astronomers to use earth-based telescopes more effectively.

The association has developed a model lighting ordinance that severely reduces the amount of allowable outdoor lighting, which it has made available to jurisdictions to use as a guideline. According to Smith, approximately 38 states now have some sort of Dark-Sky regulation requiring the use of full cutoff fixtures in outdoor, including transportation and lighting. Cutoff ratings are determined by the amount of light emitting from the fixture at high angles.

“Full cutoff fixtures have less light at high angles, which is perceived to limit the amount of up light,” said Shannon Gaines, marketing manager for area, roadway, floodlighting and poles at Cooper Lighting.

One of the impacts of Dark-Sky ordinances on transportation lighting projects has been to make lighting for roads, bridges and airports more expensive. When cutoff or full cutoff fixtures are used rather than conventional semi-cutoff types, more of them are required to provide the same level of lighting because they do not cover as large an area.

“What the Dark-Sky ordinances do not take into account is that light fixtures are not always the culprit in increased light pollution. In some cases, reflection from the ground is what causes the problem,” Howell said.

The ordinances also have an impact on safety and security.

“Light levels may be reduced so much that nighttime visibility is lessened to an unsafe level,” said Compton. One study showed that people 55 or older need twice the light levels as an 18-year-old to see with the same acuity.

“As the U.S population ages, this could become a safety factor on the roads,” said Compton.

In addition, the use of cutoff luminaires may lead the public to misperceive the actual light levels and to believe that the road, bridge or parking lot is actually not a well-lit or secure place to enter.

Research has shown that a well-designed luminaire that is classified as full- or semi-cutoff can be used in transportation lighting projects and not throw any light over 90 degrees.

“Dark-Sky ordinances around the country tend to focus on requiring the use of full cutoff luminaires rather than the use of the right fixture to reduce light pollution, while still maintaining safe levels of light,” Morel said.

Opportunities for contractors

Transportation lighting projects offer the electrical contractor who already has the experience, equipment and understanding of customer requirements an opportunity to broaden his customer base.

“Transportation lighting projects are often state funded, requiring an extensive knowledge base of the jurisdictional regulations and paperwork requirements involved,” said Howell.

The more an electrical contractor knows about the types of products used in transportation lighting projects, the more efficiently it can select and install those products.

“Contractors that want to succeed in this market must become educated on the options available. Much of this information comes directly from the individual manufacturers, which usually offer training in the technology and applications of the products offered,” Howell said.

Electrical contractors can influence product selection in transportation lighting projects and drive new product development by actively sharing their daily experiences and preferences with those who specify and manufacture products.

“Strong voices are heard, and OEM fixture manufacturers are anxious to provide products that exceed the expectations of the specifier, the owner and the installer,” Walker said.

Two emerging outdoor and roadway general illumination light sources that electrical contractors in the transportation lighting market must be aware of are white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and solar-powered fixtures. Both are more energy efficient than current sources, but their light output is not yet sufficient and LEDs generate a lot of heat.

“Once the technology has been improved in the next year or two, and these technologies generate more light, they will migrate into the outdoor market because of their long life, energy efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs,” Smith said.

However, LEDs may never be used for 1,000W outdoor applications, such as airport aprons.

“Once the consistent color rendition and light output problems are solved in the next couple of years, white LEDs will be able to supply enough light for use in safety and security applications in smaller parking lots and perhaps smaller bridges or even tunnels, in addition to their traditional architectural applications,” said Compton. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or


About the Author

Darlene Bremer

Freelance Writer

Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.

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