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Editorial: The city’s lights are on, at last

The Detroit News

When Mayor Mike Duggan took office three years ago, his first priorities centered on improving the quality of life in the city. Fixing streetlights topped the list. Large swaths of the city had been stuck in darkness. Now, the lights have come on, and that’s worth celebrating.

On Thursday evening, as the sun set, Duggan, along with others who helped make this happen, flipped the switch —literally—to mark the completion of the streetlight work which began in February 2014. The $185 million project finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

Detroit now has 65,000 new LED streetlights, making it the largest city in the U.S. lit by these bright bulbs, which are twice as bright as sodium lights. They also have aluminum wiring instead of copper. That should deter copper thieves who would regularly tear apart the former lights.

The city worked with DTE Energy to install the lights, which are also more energy-efficient and longer-lasting.

Lorna Thomas, chairwoman of the city’s Public Lighting Authority, said getting the lights working was “probably one of the most momentous things to ever happen to the city.”

The Lighting Authority, a state-created organization, is overseen by a board of Detroit residents appointed by the mayor and City Council and has worked diligently to complete its work.

During the project, 70 percent of the lighting infrastructure, much of which is underground, was replaced. That should help assure the system stays in working order for years to come.

“We have dug up the entire city,” says Thomas.

Anyone who has spent time downtown in recent months can verify that. But the temporary mess and inconvenience is worth it, with the bright new lights making getting around easier and safer.

Thomas says she directed the authority to prioritize neighborhoods that had been hardest hit. Given the neglect so many residents had faced in past years, this was the best way to approach the work and start rebuilding their faith in city government.

In addition to getting the lights on, the authority is also much more responsive to calls about a light that isn’t working. Residents who call with a concern receive a prompt response. And lights are fixed with a few days. That kind of service needs to continue.

Prior to the authority’s effort, 40 percent of the city’s streetlights didn’t work.

“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,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement.

That’s a significant improvement, and it signals a brighter future for city residents.