The next time there's a power outage, Rancho Santa Margarita residents should take some comfort that city-owned stoplights won't be affected on its two busiest streets.
A power outage nearly two weeks ago provided the first real test to a Battery Backup System that was installed in 2012 to guard against blackouts at about two dozen stoplights—and it worked like a charm.
"It was a great investment by the City," City Manager Jennifer Cervantez told members of the city council at the first council meeting of the year. "It's good news when we can make those kinds of investments and they work perfectly."
City engineer Max Maximous indicated the power was lost at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, apparently after an unnamed contractor digging near the Southern California Edison substation hit a shallow conduit.
The problem happened in a commercial area near the substation near the 241 and Santa Margarita Parkway, Maximous said. Edison had the disruption resolved by about midnight.
With about 54,000 commuters on Santa Margarita Parkway daily, Maximous estimated that a 20-minute savings in commute time—a realistic estimate had the lights failed—saved about a million minutes for local drivers.
"That's almost two years of 'life' you're giving to people," Maximous said.
The city added the battery backup to 26 stoplights on Santa Margarita and Antonio parkways, Maximous said.
In total, there were eight stoplights that were affected: four City signals with the Battery Backup System that performed flawlessly, three City signals without the BBS that lost power briefly, and a Caltrans signal at the southbound 241 interchange at Antonio Parkway.
It was at the latter site where one accident did occur.
Lt. Brian Schmutz, chief of police services, said there were no injuries but the collision did cause "moderate to major" damage to the vehicles.
"It was our first true test of our Battery Backup System and it performed flawlessly," Maximous said. "We were hoping it would work on our first test and it worked perfectly—and that it happened during the morning rush made it even better."