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Why are some motorways no longer lit?

For years Belgium was known at the country where all the motorways were bathed in light at night. This is no longer the case. There are three good reasons for this:

  • Saving money.
  • Lighting up motorways is expensive. By lighting less, the government makes a considerable saving.
  • Saving energy.
  • The less energy we use, the better the environment and the climate.
  • Limiting light pollution.
  • Light pollution affects the health of people animals and plants.

Approach differs from region to region.

In Belgium the regions are competent for managing and maintaining the motorways on their territory. Altogether these stretch for over 1,763 km: 883 km in the Flemish region, 869 km in the Walloon Region and 11.3 km in the Brussels-Capital Region. Apart from the Netherlands, Belgium has the densest motorway network in the world.

Lighting this network is expensive, uses a great of energy and causes light pollution. To cut costs, save energy and limit light pollution, some motorways are no longer lit all night in some places. The approach differs from region to region.

  • The 11.3 km of motorways in the Brussels-Capital Region are busy day and night. What is more, the distance between the junctions is very short. So the lights are left on all night here.
  • In the Walloon Region the lights are turned off in most places between 0.30 am and 5.30 am. In some places just one or two lights are left on.
  • Since 15 July 2011 a new regulation has applied in the Flemish Region. A good half of the motorways are quite simply no longer lit or only in extreme weather conditions or where there are road works, accidents or traffic jams.  The lights are only left on all night where this is necessary for road safety, such as on the ring road around Brussels or at junctions. This arrangement is said to save EUR 2 million a year.

No longer lighting the motorways all night long also saves a considerable amount of energy, of course. This is good for the environment and helps Belgium to comply with its international climate agreements. The reduction in light pollution is not only good news for amateur astronomers, but also for nature. Light pollution disrupts the biological clock of animals and plants and threatens the health of a great many species, including man.

According to the Belgian Road Safety Institute this does not adversely affect road safety. On the contrary: illuminated motorways give a false sense of security, so drivers are less cautious and defensive.

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