States and cities nationwide have been retrofitting their traffic lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in order to save money, add new functions to the light systems and be environmentally friendly. However, during the winter months a problem has arisen: The lights don't give off the heat that their incandescent counterparts did. Areas that experience wintry weather conditions, like Wisconsin and Minnesota, are finding that snow and ice are sometimes sticking to the lights and not melting as they had with the old bulbs.

This is causing some governments to send crews to manually remove the wintry buildup from the traffic lights so drivers can determine which color light is illuminated. This not only adds to the lights' maintenance costs, but also is dangerous for drivers. Several news outlets reported that Illinois authorities are blaming the problem on a woman's death. The woman was turning left on a green light, but a driver coming in the opposite direction didn't realize the stoplight was covered in snow and hit her vehicle, causing her death.

Although the areas that have installed LED bulbs in their traffic lights are experiencing cost savings, cities and states plagued by the winter-weather problem are looking for ways to retrofit their lights. Possible solutions include: installing weather shields, adding heat elements or coating the lights with water-repellent substances.

According to WLCO in Wisconsin, Janesville officials have received a few calls reporting that the lights were covered with snow. A police officer or Department of Public Works representative would then go to the traffic light and brush the snow off.

Earlier in the year, Government Technology covered different cities' LED installations in traffic lights.


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Elaine Pittman  |  Associate Editor

Elaine Pittman is the associate editor for Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management. Before coming to Government Technology, she worked for The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.