A drive through parts of Nashville’s interstate inner loop at night can be no more illuminated than a cruise along a remote country highway under only the light of the moon. That’s because some 100 overhead lights along the eight-mile loop, which essentially encircles downtown, are at the moment dark, creating both a potentially dangerous and obviously eerie vibe.
At night, the effect can be disconcerting and disorienting, with the glow of the nearby Central Business District offsetting the darkness. It’s like driving around a ghost town where the only light comes from a brightened advertisement indicating that there is, in fact, a city somewhere around here.
The City Paper reported on this situation in its Dec. 21, 2001, edition. Today, the lighting hardware remains dysfunctional due to outdated circuits, electricity conduit troubles and a general lack of consistent maintenance.
Nashville Electric Service and the Tennessee Department of Transportation are responsible for the lighting hardware. Over the years, the two parties have debated — with occasional underlying tension — which is most responsible for the interstate light problems.
“If TDOT does a major interstate project, such as widening, we will install the lights as part of the contract,” said spokesman B.J. Doughty. “Once the project is complete, the lights are turned over to NES for maintenance. TDOT has no involvement in maintaining these lights.”
But is TDOT responsible for ensuring that companies it hires do not, for example, install guardrails and unwittingly sever cables that feed electricity to the hardware?
Spokesman Tim Hill said NES has been reinstalling the lamps in interstate lights and will soon “turn our attention” to the inner loop.
“In some areas, there is a large group of lights out due to work being performed on the circuit,” Hill said. “The circuits are old and have been damaged frequently through the years when work was performed.”
Hill said that work would start on inner-loop lights in “three to six weeks.”
TDOT is requiring the work be done on Sundays, highlighting the fact that though the road-building agency has no responsibility to maintain the lights, it can dictate when NES does.