This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here because the All LED Lighting site has gone dark. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.

2013-10-30

Lighting Boston's Tunnels, Revisited

Herewith an update on the Massachusetts highway department's request to the industry to design and manufacture 25,000 light fixtures for Boston's tunnels.

In June, we discussed a plan by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to replace 25,000 lighting fixtures, at a cost of up to $59 million, in the eight miles of tunnels beneath Boston and its waterways. This week at the LEDs and the SSL Ecosystem 2013 conference, I was pleased to attend a status report on the project by Frank DePaola, administrator of MassDOT's highway division.

First, here are a few updates from what we reported in June.

The adventure all started in 2011, when a lighting fixture weighing 110 lb. (50 kg) installed as part of the 14-year Big Dig project crashed to the roadway below (fortunately without injuring anyone). Highway division engineers and consultants had determined that the original lights' fastener clips were corroding and failing because dissimilar metals (aluminum and stainless steel) came in contact after a powder coating wore through or was pierced by the clips. The corrosion was exacerbated by the extreme conditions in the tunnels -- exhaust fumes, road salt, incursion of salt water, and washing with warm water among them.

(Some of those in the audience clearly hadn't heard the MassDOT story before. I could see a few heads shaking when DePaola mentioned dissimilar metals. Those people would not have designed a luminaire for a tunnel application in that way.)

Over the next year, MassDOT examined several scenarios for remediation. DePaola provided some insight into this evaluation process. We reported in June, based on press accounts at the time: "MassDOT has said that the [new, replacement] fixtures will have sealed plastic on the exterior." DePaola backtracked from that conclusion by saying the state is relying on the expertise of the industry to determine what the best solution looks like. "I don't know what you guys are coming up with, but as long as it doesn't give off noxious fumes and it doesn't rust away, I'm happy."

Again following accounts at the time, we reported the expected energy savings at $2.5 million per year. At the LEDs Conference, DePaola enumerated the anticipated savings today: $1.5 million per year from energy and $3 million per year from avoided maintenance.

In response to a question, he said the earlier fixture failures occurred less than 10 years after installation. MassDOT is expecting at least 25 years' service from the replacement fixtures.

Interview
During an elevator ride, I had a brief interview with an employee of a firm that is in competition for the contract for those 25,000 fixtures (or some of them -- up to three firms may end up supplying the project). He told me the RFQ required a 25-year warranty on the fixtures' external housing, 10 years on the LEDs, five years on the drivers, and one year on any other electronics. All are expected to be easily replaceable.

I have been looking for that RFQ on MassDOT's site since June, and I still haven't located it.

I asked my informant how many companies were in the competition. He said about a dozen, of which maybe five or six, in his opinion, were credible competitors. This competition, like the L Prize, is by its very structure weighted in favor of large companies. Small concerns might be more nimble in designing and prototyping, but the manufacturing requirements will leave many of them out of the running.

Fast track
The RFQ did not give companies much time to respond, the source said. It was issued in May, and the initial deadline was August of this year; that has since been extended to November. In December, MassDOT hopes to announce three short-listed finalists that will each be asked to supply several hundred prototype fixtures. These will be installed and tested over a year. Installation of production versions couldn't start before 2015.

This is a fairly sizable and highly visible contract. Whichever company or companies win a piece of it will be in a strong position to compete worldwide for similarly demanding applications.

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