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April 12. 2012 11:01PM

Turning off the lights: DOT's overdue savings plan

The state Department of Transportation has begun cutting costs by switching off street lights — during an election year. This is going to be fun.

Why is the DOT suddenly so interested in saving money that it's scouring the state to turn off every extraneous streetlight? This is where the fun begins. The DOT has given two conflicting reasons.

The Bureau of Highway Maintenance's utility budget, which was cut by 45 percent in this fiscal year, funds streetlights. Legislators cut that specific line item in the budget.

“Our budget has been cut in half and we have to respond accordingly,” DOT spokesman Bill Boynton told this newsaper.

But before Democrats pounce, they should know that Gov. John Lynch shares the credit. While the DOT is telling the public that the budget cuts are the culprit, the commissioner is telling other public officials that Lynch is responsible.

In a March 26 letter to state Rep. Philip Ginsburg, DOT Commissioner Chris Clement writes, “There are two driving forces behind the streetlight reduction program. The first is the Governor's executive order 2011-1 requiring State Agencies to further cut energy use by setting the goal of reducing the use of fossil fuels in state government by 25 percent, compared to 2005 levels, by 2025. In an effort to comply with the Governor's order and provide essential, cost efficient services, the Department is now in the process of evaluating all streetlights operating on the state highway system with the intent to de-energize any streetlight not absolutely required by safety standards or either state or federal mandates.”

Clement said budget cuts were a secondary reason. But Boynton told us in an inverview yesterday that the budget cuts were the main reason for the streetlight program, and the governor's executive order was “not the driving force.”

Hmmm. It defies credulity for the commissioner to claim that this initiative was launched primarily to comply with an executive order that must be achieved 13 years from now. The spokesman's story was better, and more likely true.

Either way, the result will be good for the taxpayers. The state already has identified numerous lights that can be turned off without compromising public safety, as well as at least one case of the state being double-billed for the same street light, Boynton said. “A lot of this stuff may have been put up out of want rather than need over time,” he said. Shutting off those lights is a good thing, no matter which side claims credit.


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