Smart lights have upgraded Wellington’s dim 623-metre Mt Victoria Tunnel into a brighter, safer place for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

The new electronically-controlled LED lighting system was commissioned through February and began illuminating the tunnel day and night in early March.

The new lighting system is a milestone in the NZ Transport Agency’s plans to bring Mt Victoria Tunnel up to 21st Century standards and has now won the 2016 IESANZ Award of Commendation. The judges commented it was ” a dramatic improvement with great results achieved with clean lines and a well-designed control system”.

A total of 410 LED lights and the cable trays that support them have been fitted. The efficient, energy-saving lights are specifically designed for drivers’ visual comfort and tunnel safety. The lighting is controlled by the tunnel’s computer “brain”, a new installation that will constantly receive information from sensors mounted in the ceiling and will take into account the progressive adaptation of the eye from outside to inside and the different levels of light required along the interior.

The lights dim or brighten near the tunnel’s portals, depending on the light levels outside, to make the transition between natural and artificial light easier on drivers’ eyes. Previously there was no transition from exterior bright light to low light inside Mt Victoria Tunnel.

Internationally it is known that a higher percentage of tunnel accidents occur in the transition areas where efficient lighting should avoid the “black hole effect” at the entrance and the “glaring effect” at the exit.

The difference between the light outside and the light inside near the portals is kept as small as possible to allow the driver to recognise an obstacle within the vehicle’s stopping distance. Once in the tunnel, luminance levels decrease slowly to allow the driver’s eyes to adapt to lower lighting levels in the centre of the tunnel.

The supplier of the LEDs, Italian road and tunnel lighting specialist AEC, and their New Zealand partner Techlight were on site in February to commission the new lighting system. Raffaele Benedetti travelled from Italy to ensure the commissioning went smoothly. Kevin Brooksbank, the lighting designer said “I’m proud to be involved in this ‘first’ for New Zealand. New Zealand is at the cutting edge of Smart Lighting developments.”

The old lights, which are at the end of their useful life, have been removed. Most were sodium lights plus fluorescents to improve the light at the portals.

This upgrade is Stage 2 of a three-stage revamp of the tunnel. It includes:

  • A new communications system, including emergency management
  • Pedestrian walkway strengthened to seismic standards
  • New wall panels along the carriageway
  • Ventilation improved by replacing or reconditioning the fans
  • Exterior portal slopes strengthened and concrete surfacing improved
  • Three control rooms refurbished and a fourth built to contain upgraded and new equipment