The city will have a little more cash to put toward chipping away at its backlog of broken streetlights after the City Council voted Thursday to dedicate $1.7 million in capital funding to repairs.
The Department of Public Works will use the money first to repair about 800 nonworking lights on Interstate 10 going toward New Orleans East. If any money is left over after those repairs, the department will decide whether to use it to repair 32 broken lampposts on St. Charles Avenue or to repair 300 other nonworking lights in other parts of the city, Public Works Director Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan said.
Each repair along the interstate is expected to cost about $1,500, based on similar repairs in the past, Jernigan said.
The work will begin within a month and will be performed by the firms All Star Electric and Royal Engineering, which already are under contract to the city, Jernigan said.
The funds are being moved from the capital budget to the Department of Public Works. The money had been dedicated to paying off a bond issue that recently was completed, Jernigan said. The money still must be spent on capital projects, meaning it can be used for redoing light posts, for example, but not for trimming trees or converting existing bulbs to more energy-efficient ones.
The Public Works Department slowly has been making its way through a backlog of nonworking streetlights.
The city owns and operates about 54,000 streetlights, including those on federal and state highways. When Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010, more than 16,000 of those streetlights were out. More than 43,000 lights have been fixed since then, but maintenance remains a persistent problem because lights are continually burning out as others are repaired.
There are currently about 5,200 outages, Jernigan told the City Council.
The allocation approved Thursday will be part of a three-part funding plan to repair or replace those lights. The City Council voted in April to steer $14.7 million in payments from Entergy New Orleans toward converting old streetlights into energy-efficient LED units on the east bank of Orleans Parish. The new lights are expected to last seven to 10 years, compared with the three-year life expectancy of the bulbs traditionally used in streetlights, and to use 30 percent to 50 percent less energy.
The rest of the repairs, those that are not capital projects or LED conversions, will have to be covered by money from the general fund, Jernigan said. There is no money set aside for that work.
Council President Stacy Head encouraged the Landrieu administration to explore options for finding that money, including a hiring freeze and rededicating surplus dollars from the 2013 budget year to complete the repairs.