The city has begun replacing 205 school-zone flashing beacons that were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago. The flashing lights mark school zones at 82 New Orleans public and private schools.
Priority is being given to beacons at 50 schools that are open, but they also will be replaced at former schools that authorities have said are expected to reopen.
The lights at all open schools are due to be operational by the end of October.
The entire $1.4 million project will be completed by early 2009. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying the cost.
School zones have still been in effect and signs marking the zones have been in place at all schools that are open, even if their flashing lights do not work, Public Works Department Director Robert Mendoza said Tuesday.
A few of the beacons being replaced have worked but could not be controlled electronically, Mendoza said. The rest did not work at all.
The new flashing beacons will be powered by solar panels, reducing their energy consumption and saving money, he said. “Switching to LED technology and utilizing solar power will reduce annual maintenance and operational costs,” he said, although it took a while to persuade FEMA to pay for the new technology rather than simply replacing the old system.
Although city law does not require flashing lights at school zones, the lights “alert drivers that they must slow down and pay attention for any children crossing the roadway,” Mendoza said.
The lights generally are installed only on major streets with speed limits of 35 mph or more, not on side streets where the speed limit is 25 mph, only 5 mph more than the limit in school zones.
Typically, the beacons are programmed to flash on weekdays from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. and from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. They also can be activated for special events occurring at other hours.
The new flashing beacons were developed by Carmanah Technologies Corp., a Canadian company that is a leading provider of energy-efficient technologies, and are being installed by Jack B. Harper Contractor Inc., which won the contract through the public bid process.