Detroit's lighting authority starts replacing defective LED streetlights

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Lineman Allen Begley installs a new Cree brand LED light on Remington Street near Dequindre in a north-side Detroit neighborhood on Thursday.

Detroit — The city's Public Lighting Authority has begun efforts to replace nearly one-third of its LED streetlights only a few years after they were installed because of defective equipment that's causing premature dimming and failures.

The Detroit News first reported last month that the authority had filed a federal lawsuit against the manufacturer, Leotek Electronics USA, arguing the problems put the city's revitalization progress "in jeopardy" and a fix is expected to cost millions.

In its complaint, the authority noted that upward of 20,000 LED lights are impacted and officials expected "a system-wide failure of Leotek's luminaires in the short-term."

It was anticipated the LED lights would last for at least a decade.

The legal case remains pending, but the authority has selected multiple firms to provide the first 1,000 replacement lights. 

Over the last two weeks, new lights have gone in on sections of Jefferson Avenue, said Beau Taylor, executive director of the lighting authority. 

This is one of the Cree brand LED streetlights installed in Detroit on Thursday.

As the authority awaits additional high-wattage lights, it will begin changing out lights in some city neighborhoods. On Thursday, three crews were replacing bulbs on the city's east side. 

Beau said Thursday that the authority is "honoring our commitment both to addressing this issue as quickly as possible and to keeping Detroit’s streets properly lit.”

"The relighting of the city symbolized the resurgence of the city," Taylor said. "If we get these things replaced, it's going to show that we're also resilient and able to respond to any issues that come up."

More lights are being dropped off this week and Taylor said the authority hopes to have about 1,000 new lights installed weekly. The project will be completed by the end of the year. 

The authority, in a Thursday statement, said it will "continue to prosecute its case in federal court while exploring possible resolutions with the manufacturer."

Leotek failed to file a response to the federal complaint by a deadline that had been set for last week, according to court records. Quinlan Tom, an attorney for the California-based company, could not be immediately reached Thursday for comment. 

In March, Tom wrote a letter to the lighting authority's legal counsel, seeking documentation regarding the failed units so the company "can proceed with fulfilling its warranty obligations without delay."

“We share the authority’s significant safety concerns regarding any such failures,” he wrote. 

In December, the manufacturer acknowledged in writing that it had experienced "a high number of reports of failures" in the models dimming the city's streets.

The lighting project has been held up by Mayor Mike Duggan and others as an early success in the city's effort to restore basic services. Before the three-year, $185 million overhaul of the city's lighting grid, about 40% of Detroit's 88,000 streetlights didn't work.

Lineman Allen Begley removes a burned out Leotek LED light panel before installing a new Cree brand LED light on Thursday.

Duggan told The News last month that the replacement project could cost up to $9 million. Taylor on Thursday stood by Duggan's cost estimate. 

The authority has said that the issue was discovered last fall during routine surveys of the lighting system. It's tied to defective units that were either "charred, burned, or cracked," according to a February letter from the lighting authority's law firm.

The issues mainly impacted west side neighborhoods and a number of heavily trafficked areas including sections of Jefferson and Gratiot as well as Woodward between Six Mile and Eight Mile. 

Overhead Lines LLC was contracted by the authority for the replacement work.

On Thursday, a crew was replacing panels near Dequindre and Remington on the east side. Each Leotek LED panel removed was charred, said Derrick Lee, general foreman for the company.

"There's not one that we've taken down that it does not look like that," he said. "They were supposed to last for years. Now they are failing after three or four years."

The authority in 2014 paid $3.9 million to purchase 25,320 lights from Leotek. Installation costs for the lights were about $5.2 million. 

Tens of thousands of lights purchased from the other manufacturers — Cree Inc., Cooper Industries Inc., and King Lighting Inc. — are performing to industry standards, officials have said. 

Detroit flipped the switch on the final section of its 65,000 new streetlights in December 2016.

To report streetlight issues, residents can visit the lighting authority website, call (313) 324-8290, or email They also can log on to the city's Improve Detroit app.