Detroit hits target with 65,000 new streetlights

Last of the city’s streetlights were lit up Thursday evening after a three-year infrastructure overhaul.

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the sun set over the Detroit River Thursday evening, representatives behind the charge to install 65,000 new streetlights gathered to flip the switch on the last dark strip of the city.

It was “probably one of the most momentous things to ever happen to the city,” according to Lorna Thomas, chairwoman of Detroit’s Public Lighting Authority.

Thomas and Mayor Mike Duggan started the project in February 2014. With help from Gov. Rick Snyder’s office and the Obama administration, the city now has public lighting that meets the national standard, Duggan said Thursday.

With the entire city lit by LED fixtures, Detroit is also the largest American city to have 100 percent LED public lighting, Duggan said.

The $185 million project finished ahead of schedule, and also a few million dollars under budget, spokesmen for the lighting authority said Thursday.

But some residents are not totally happy with some of the decisions made by the authority. They say where the lights are placed has left pockets of pitch darkness on some formerly well-lit residential streets. One light has been installed at every street corner and in the middle of each block longer than 300 feet.

Residents have also complained about dark alleyways, so the authority decided to also put up lights where alleys meet the street.

On Thursday, Thomas said the lighting authority added around 15,000 streetlights to the total number in place. The new lights also follow national standards for the distance between each light, she said.

Duggan said the streetlights are a huge stride for the city’s infrastructure, but there is still a great deal of work to do.

“We’ve got to rebuild these water and sewer lines,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on the roads, and at some point I’d like to find a way to extend the light rail.”

Duggan said he hopes to continue to work with the White House during President-elect Donald Trump’s tenure.

Shaun Donovan, President Barack Obama’s budget director, said Detroit saw the “pinnacle” of a strategy the White House had for support of local governments. The city had the largest and most extensive team stationed in any city during the Obama administration, he said.

“When I walk the streets here, there’s a sense of hope and a sense of progress that is tangible,” he said. “There are lots of measures you can look at, one of the most important would be to see that the city starts to grow, and I think we’re very, very close to that.”

Donovan said he doesn’t anticipate federal assistance in Detroit tapering off when the new administration takes office in January.

“This work isn’t partisan,” he said. “It’s not a vision that’s Democratic or Republican.”

Speaking to a small crowd gathered in a tent on Atwater near the riverfront Thursday evening, Donovan said the world is watching Detroit.

“Detroit is the symbol of the rise and fall of cities,” he said. “Now it is the symbol of the rise again ... You are a beacon to the rest of this country and the world.”

Brian Ferguson, a resident who lives on the northwest side, said the streetlights are a visual example of change in the city. Ferguson’s neighborhood was one of the earlier parts of the city to have its streetlights relit.

“I don’t have to walk my streets in the dark no more,” he said. “This is a dream come true.”

Rufus Bartell, a business owner in the historic Avenue of Fashion on the northwest side, said officials “cannot overestimate the need for lighting” and its importance to businesses and retail corridors.

Before the lighting authority’s work, 40 percent of the city’s streetlights didn’t work.

The city worked with DTE Energy to install the lights, which are twice as bright and more energy efficient than sodium lights. The LED lights also last longer. Also, to stymie copper theft, the lighting authority used aluminum wiring.

The lighting authority said it will repair any lights that stop working within three to five days of receiving a report of an outage.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau