Amherst wary of highway streetlight removal

AMHERST – Town officials quizzed state engineers last week about plans to remove many streetlights from major intersections in town.

Two Department of Transportation engineers and several state lawmakers were at the Jan. 22 Amherst selectmen’s meeting to talk about the plans.

Streetlight removal is part of a five-year project to save money by discontinuing unnecessary lights across the state, as well as a state law that requires the DOT to look at ways to save energy, DOT engineer Roger Appleton told selectmen.

Already, 933 lights have been removed across the state, he said, with only the south-central portion of the state left, and the DOT anticipates a savings of about $350,000 this year as a result.

Thirty-one of Amherst’s 41 streetlights are slated for removal, and engineers said they don’t foresee any safety problems.

Current lighting was installed long ago, before there were other safety improvements in roads and vehicles, Appleton said. Engineer Caleb Dobbins said many of the lights across the state were installed for aesthetic reasons, not for safety. Streetlights along Route 101 at the Meeting Place, where all six lights would be removed, falls in that category, he said.

And Dobbins assured officials that engineers are using highway safety design criteria to make decisions about which ones stay and which go.

“We found many were put in because they were “nice,” he said. On the bridge between Dover and Newington on the Seacoast, for example, there are 50 lights and they’re beautiful, and they were installed because someone requested them, but there is no safety reason to have a light every 50 feet.

Selectman Peter Lyon and other officials, however, had many questions related to safety.

“We have at least a couple of problematic intersections, said Lyon, a retired Amherst police chief. “We don’t want to stand in the way of efficiency, but we also don’t want a reduction in safety.”

Looking at the state’s map, about 74 percent of Amherst’s highway lights are targeted, he said, and that seems like a lot.

Those include five out of six lights at the intersection of Routes 101A and 101, two lights at Old Nashua Road and 101A, and three lights at Veterans Road and 101A.

Amherst state Reps. Reed Panasiti, an Amherst selectman, Shannon Chandley and Peter Hansen, were at the meeting, along with state Sen. Gary Daniels of Milford. They all had questions for the engineers, who agreed to meet with Amherst’s highway safety committee.

If certain locations are a problem, “we are certainly willing to look,” said Dobbins, who said the project also is saving the state money in other ways.

“We found lights we were paying for that didn’t exist,” because the utility companies and the state kept poor records. “It’s been an eye-opening process.” But cost-savings alone is not a criteria for light removal, and every removal has to meet safety criteria, he said.