What is the Public Lighting Authority?
The Public Lighting Authority (PLA) is a state-created authority whose mission is to improve, modernize and maintain all street lights in the City of Detroit with brighter, more reliable, more energy efficient lights. It is a completely separate legal entity from the City of Detroit.
When was the PLA created?
Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation in December 2012 to allow lighting authorities to be created in Michigan cities. The Detroit City Council voted 6-3 on February 6, 2013 to approve the PLA’s articles of incorporation.
Why was the PLA created?
Detroit’s street lighting system has been in increasingly serious disrepair for some time, with minimal infrastructure investment having been made for at least the last 20 years. Approximately forty percent of the lights in the system were not working for reasons that include copper theft, bulb outages, vandalism, obsolete technology, lack of repair staff and a lack of funds to pay for repairs. The PLA was created to develop and implement a plan to get the system operating effectively and to provide a vehicle to secure the funds needed to make these badly needed improvements to Detroit’s public lighting system that will last well into the future.
Who runs the PLA?
The PLA is run by a five-member board, all of whom are Detroit residents. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council each appointed two board members and the fifth member was picked by council from a list of candidates provided by the mayor. Current members of the PLA board are Lorna Thomas M.D., who serves as chair; Eva Garza Dewaelsche, vice chair; Rod Parker, treasurer; Nicole Spieles, secretary; and David Jones, at-large.
The Chief Executive Officer is Odis Jones, a Detroit native who has extensive experience in managing urban initiatives. Prior to returning to Detroit to direct the PLA, Jones served as Economic Development Director for the City of Cincinnati. Before his work in Cincinnati, he served as Director of Urban & Site Development for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and before that was President of the Columbus, Ohio Urban Growth Corporation. Jones also has served as City Manager for several cities across the U.S.
How is the Authority funded?
The legislation that created the authority allocated $12.5 million annually from the City’s Utility Users Tax, which originally was levied to pay for public safety activities. That source was chosen because the marketability of the bonds required a secured revenue stream and public lighting is clearly an important part of insuring public safety. The law also allocated a portion of the City income tax to public safety to ensure that funding for the Police Department remains whole.
This dedicated revenue stream and its independent status enabled the PLA to sell $185 million in bonds to fund the relighting of the City. The original goal was to sell $160 million worth of bonds, but a very favorable interest rate of 4.53 percent enabled the authority to sell $185 million in bonds, providing funds for an additional 10,000 lights, meaning a total of 65,000 lights will be installed.
What specifically does the Public Lighting Authority do with this money?
The funds are devoted exclusively to fixing all aspects of the street lighting system, including the poles, lights and wiring.
What can the Public Lighting Authority do that the Detroit Public Lighting Department can’t?
How will the Public Lighting Authority pay for the additional lights?
What kind of street lights are being installed in the City?
The PLA is installing energy efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights that are twice as bright as the old lights and much less expensive to operate.
In the neighborhoods, the PLA’s first priority, the new lights are 150-watt equivalent LED lights, twice as bright as the 75-watt equivalent High Pressure Sodium lights that were standard under the old system. The LED lights are also much more energy efficient than the High Pressure Sodium lights.
The PLA’s second area of focus is the – the collector streets, the direct connections between residences and destinations such as community centers, schools, businesses and major roads. Some examples of collector streets include Grand Blvd., Livernois, Mack Avenue, Seven Mile Road, Van Dyke, and Warren Ave. The new street lights are 250-watt equivalent, where the old lights were 150-watt equivalent.
Representing the PLA’s third area of focus are the major thoroughfares. These streets are receiving 400-watt equivalent lights. Work on them has already begun and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.
How many street lights will be installed?
The PLA’s plan is to install 65,000 new LED street lights that are placed equally across the city by the end of 2016.
What about alley lights?
Currently, there are 20,000 alley lights, of which 12,000 are working. Nonworking alley lights will be removed. The 12,000 alley lights that are working will be left in place until they burn out, at which point, they will also be removed.
When an alley light burns out, residents will be offered the option of a replacement Outdoor Protective Light (OPL) light from DTE. There is no installation cost, and a low, monthly fee for the cost of energy will be included in residents’ monthly DTE bill.
What is the PLA doing to deal with the threat of copper theft that has left so many lights not working?
One of the main reasons for theft was that the old lighting method used copper wire and required a copper coil at the base of each pole. The copper was easily stolen by scrappers. The new circuits, in which each light is independent, do not require a copper coil at the base of the pole and utilize aluminum wiring, which has much less value than copper on the scrap market. That combined with the fact that 85 percent of the wiring will be overhead, will cut down on opportunities and incentives for theft.
Does the PLA have a large staff to make the improvements?
The PLA has a very small internal staff and is contracting out the work needed to upgrade the system.
Are Detroiters hired to do the work to improve the system?
The legislation requires that every effort be made to ensure that local companies are doing the work. The authority understands the substantial resources that exist within the City to carry out this work and is focused on assuring that qualified Detroit companies are contracted to carry out the work. Approximately 80 percent of the PLA’s contractors are Detroit-based businesses. On any given day, more than 450 individuals are working to restore reliable street lighting in Detroit. Nearly 25 percent of the workforce installing street lights consists of Detroit residents.
When will work be finished?
The PLA’s plan to relight the City puts all of the neighborhood and collector streets first. The neighborhoods and collector streets will be completed by the end of 2015. The major roads will be completed by the end of 2016. The major roads are:
- Fort Street
- Grand River
- Gratiot Avenue
- Telegraph Road
- Jefferson Avenue
- Michigan Avenue
- Woodward Avenue
Is the PLA replacing the Public Lighting Department? If not, how will they divide their responsibilities?
Yes, the PLA is taking over operation of the Public Lighting Department as it installs new street lights.