It’s finally done. After three year of work, Detroit has streetlights in every zip code.
On Thursday, December 15, the Public Lighting Authority (PLA) installed the last of 65,000 new LED streetlights in the city. That completes a massive $185 million relighting program that began in February 2014 after Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit City Council appointed a new board to lead the project.
The last stretch of replaced lights was turned on during a ceremony at dusk just east of downtown Detroit at Atwater and Riopelle.
“For the first time in a generation, Detroiters can step outside at night anywhere in their city and have an expectation of a street lit to the national standard,” Duggan says. “They also can have the expectation that if a light goes out, it will be replaced within five days. This major accomplishment for our residents would not have been possible without the hard work of the professional staff and board we have at the PLA.”
Three years ago about 40 percent of the city’s streetlights didn’t work because of copper theft, bulb outages, vandalism, obsolete technology, lack of repair staff and a lack of funds to pay for repairs. In some cases, entire neighborhoods were in complete darkness. That was completely unacceptable.
The Mayor and the PLA reversed the original plan, which called for lighting major thoroughfares first in order to light neighborhoods first and complete them a year earlier. Under the new plan brighter and more energy-efficient LED lights were installed instead of dimmer sodium lights.
The replacement of lights began in the city’s darkest ZIP codes on the far east and far west sides, and moved across the city, eventually reaching downtown Detroit.
The PLA did more than install lights. It also eliminated the problem the old system experienced of copper theft by switching from copper to aluminum wiring. Plus, the new LED lights don’t need a copper coil at the base like the old lights. Sorry thieves.
To make the system more reliable, the PLA did away with the old series-circuit lighting system, known as “Christmas tree light” wiring, where multiple lights were on one circuit. You know how that works from your Christmas tree. If one light burns out, all the lights on that circuit stop working. In the new lighting system, if one light goes out, the others stay on.
In addition, the authority instituted a maintenance program that fixes lights that stopped working within three to five days of the outage being reported. Under the old system, repairs could take months, if not years.
“When we began installing new LED streetlights in Detroit’s neighborhoods in February 2014, many people thought what we were trying to do was impossible, because it had never been done,” says Dr. Lorna Thomas, chairwoman of the Public Lighting Authority. “But we have done it. This is an example of how government should work.”
DTE Energy was the owner’s representative overseeing the entire project.
“At DTE Energy, we are extremely proud to have assisted with the project to relight the City of Detroit,” says Trevor F. Lauer, president and chief operating officer, DTE Electric. “For our residents, businesses, employees, and the surrounding communities, Detroit’s new energy efficient streetlights symbolize progress, safety, and a tremendous sense of pride in our invigorated and revitalized city.”
The PLA financed the construction with a $60 million interim financing sold in December, 2013 and then a long-term fixed rate financing of $185 million completed in June of 2014. The bonds are being paid off through an annual allocation of $12.5 million from the city’s utility user tax. The bonds are being paid off through an annual allocation of $12.5 million from the city’s utility user tax.