Detroit Mayor Bing Has Plan to Fix Aging Street Lights

Detroit’s thousands of broken streetlights would be fixed faster and many would be removed under a plan by Mayor Dave Bing to upgrade a public-lighting system that dates back to the early 1900s in some areas.

The plan, however, requires state legislation for the city to create a lighting authority that would have approval to sell bonds. That measure has stalled with lawmakers on summer recess.

Improved public lighting is Detroit’s most important issue next to crime, Bing told reporters today in his City Hall office. He said his plan would replace 3,330 broken street lights within six months, and eventually fix any reported outage within a week using a new call center.

The plan, which hinges on $160 million of borrowing, would “solve a generations-old infrastructure problem that hinders public safety and quality of life for the citizens of Detroit,” said Bing, 68.

The state Senate meets one day next week before recessing until September, and the mayor urged action on the public-lighting bills. Only 35,000 of the 88,000 fixtures in Detroit’s lighting system work, according to city chief operating officer Chris Brown.

Brown said the modernized system would have 40,000 to 45,000 street lights.

Broken Lights

Public lighting has been lacking in many Detroit neighborhoods, while some with few residents are well-lit. Many lampposts have been vandalized and haven’t worked for years, and as many as 15,000 street lights date from the 1920s, according to a 2010 study by McKinsey & Co., a consulting firm.

Repairing, modernizing and reducing the system’s footprint would cost $140 million to $200 million, while the operating and annual capital costs would increase 22 percent to about $28 million, according to the McKinsey report.

Bing said in the early phases of his plan, every reported broken street light would be fixed. He also wants to remove lights in unpopulated areas, including 13,639 alley fixtures.

His administration is wrestling with consolidating services and encouraging residents to move into more densely packed neighborhoods to cut costs.

Spread over 139 square miles (360 square kilometers) -- an area bigger than Boston, Buffalo and San Francisco combined -- Detroit ranked 10th in population among U.S. cities in 2000, yet lost 25 percent by 2010.

Brown said the new lighting authority wouldn’t just turn out lights in sparsely populated areas. He said the agency would consult with residents to create a long-term plan to consolidate lighting. The most urgent need now is to replace broken lights along the city’s major roads, many with obsolete circuitry, he said.

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