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Crews have begun replacing 25,000 defective Detroit streetlights

Dan Austin

Crews are at work replacing defective streetlights across Detroit.

About one-third—roughly 25,000—of the city’s new LED streetlights are prematurely burning out. Crews have replaced about 1,000 so far, according to the Detroit Public Lighting Authority.

PLA CEO Beau Taylor says contractor crews are “fixing lights as quickly as we can get them.” He says the replacement effort should be done by the end of the year, ideally by early November.

“Whatever we can do to minimize the impact of kids walking home from school in the dark, or walking to school in the dark, that’s my main focus,” Taylor said.

The defective lights are spread across the city’s 139 square miles. Taylor says the fix is “extensive, but it’s not difficult.”

“This is akin to a light going out in your house, and replacing it,” Taylor said. “Well, I should say it’s akin to a third of the lights in your house going out, but it’s a matter of going to the store, buying some bulbs, then getting on a chair and switching the bulb out.”

Taylor says there’s no “existential” problem with the city’s LED lighting system. Detroit finished replacing its dysfunctional public lighting system with LED technology in 2016.

The PLA is suing Leotek, the manufacturer of the defective LED bulbs, for breach of contract and breach of warranty. It hopes to recoup the cost of replacing them, which could run about $10 million.

Taylor says the two sides are “in discussions as we speak” and hope to settle the lawsuit.

“Our goal, obviously, is for there to be a net zero economic impact for the Authority,” he said. “We don’t anticipate having to go back to the Detroit taxpayers and asking them for additional money to address the problem.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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