Breaking a stalemate that has delayed Los Angeles' compliance with state law, Mayor James K. Hahn directed the Department of Water and Power on Wednesday to provide $20 million in loans to convert the city's incandescent traffic signals into more energy-efficient lights.
Although the terms have not been worked out, city transportation officials said the DWP could recoup the money from savings from the installation of 180,000 light-emitting diodes, which use 90% less electricity than incandescent signals.
Selling the power saved by the more efficient lights also could raise money to repay the loans, officials said.
Hahn stepped in after the DWP for months resisted paying for the conversion of traffic signals operated by the city Department of Transportation.
Transportation officials say they do not have the money to convert the signals to light-emitting diodes, as required by a two-year-old state law, and argue that the DWP should pay for it because the agency would have to provide less electricity, which it does for free.
"City departments should work together to improve traffic flow and other quality-of-life issues," Hahn said.
"Therefore, I directed the Department of Water and Power to provide the Department of Transportation the funding it needs to improve our city's traffic lights."
Under state law, cities that replace old incandescent bulbs must install the diode signals, which are more energy efficient and last five to 10 times longer.
Using more energy-efficient signals could save the DWP about $2 million a year, said Lillian Kawasaki, the agency's assistant general manager.
Wayne Tanda, general manager of the Department of Transportation, estimated that the unused energy could be sold on the open market for $5.6 million annually.
Hahn's directive came the same day that the City Council's Transportation Committee held a hearing on the dispute.
Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, the committee chairman and a candidate for mayor, criticized the two city departments for spending months haggling over the project.
"I'm concerned that our departments in the city family haven't been able to figure this out despite working on it for a long time," he said.
Villaraigosa also said he was wary of the differing cost estimates for the conversion of all incandescent signals.
Transportation officials have said the project might cost $12 million to $20 million, but the DWP said long-lasting diode signals might cost $67.5 million.
Hahn's letter Wednesday asks the departments to request lighting companies to submit cost proposals so the city can gauge how much money will be required to complete the work.