July 9, 2014 at 1:00 am


Editorial: Streetlight work, a bright spot in Detroit

The city's new Lighting Authority has installed 10,000 new lights so far, surpassing its goals

Let there be light in Detroit. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

The Public Lighting Authority is working to give Detroit a better image and improve safety as it turns on lights around the city. The authority has made marked progress and installed the city’s 10,000th new light last week.

And the agency, independent of the city of Detroit, is borrowing $185 million in bonds to speed its work.

The Lighting Authority, under CEO Odis Jones’ leadership, is ahead of schedule installing new LED streetlights throughout the city, by 1,000 lights. In a recent week, for example, the authority put up 800 new lights, more than its original target of 500 per week.

DTE Energy is providing installation and operations support.

For years, Detroit has struggled to keep its streetlights in working order. In many ways, the lack of lights became a symbol of the city’s troubled finances and governance, and national news coverage certainly focused on the problem of neighborhoods made more dangerous by the burden of burned-out streetlights.

But the Lighting Authority is reversing that narrative, one light bulb at a time. This has also been a top priority of Mayor Mike Duggan since he took office six months ago.

The authority is borrowing the money from the state at a 4.53 percent interest rate. The Lighting Authority’s high A- credit rating from Standard & Poor’s led to an interest rate almost 2 percent lower than it had planned on receiving.

That rating is partly because the agency is completely independent from the city and not tied to any of its debt. The bonds were also issued by the Michigan Finance Authority, and the state carries an AA- credit rating.

The low interest rate on the bonds opened the authority up to an extra $25 million. The boost in funding will enable the Lighting Authority to purchase and install an additional 15,000 lights throughout the city.

The Lighting Authority is on track to have all lights in neighborhoods by the end of 2015, and all thoroughfares (Grand River, Gratiot, Woodward, etc.) completed by the end of 2016.

The new LED lights are made of materials less prone to robbery than the previous lights, and are much brighter.

When lights were first being installed earlier this year, residents were greeting crew members with coffee and hugs, a sign of the immense gratitude for improving their neighborhoods, and quality of life.

There’s still much work to be done to improve Detroit’s streets and its core city services.

But these lighting accomplishments, to date, are proof that changes are happening, and the city can be safer and stronger than it has been.