This street light at the corner of 3235 Grand Route Saint John and Vignaud Street cycles on and off.
For months, residents of countless New Orleans neighborhoods have complained about nonworking streetlights and the lack of city response to their demands for action. For three months, in fact, there was no response at all because the city, dealing with an $80 million budget hole for 2010, had no money.
But repair crews should catch up with most of the large backlog of malfunctioning lights within a few weeks, Public Works Director Robert Mendoza told a City Council committee Tuesday.
The city ran out of money to replace burned-out bulbs and fix broken wiring in October, at the same time Robinson Industries’ contract to do the work ended.
At the time, there were more than 1,300 open work orders, meaning at least that many streetlights were not working. By the time work resumed in mid-January, with new contractors in place and the start of a new budget year making money once again available, the number of identified outages had risen to 3,600, out of a citywide total of 55,000 lights.
Since then, two-thirds of those have been fixed or scheduled for correction, but another 1,000 malfunctions have been reported, bringing the total to 4,600, Mendoza said. By the end of this week, he said, all of those complaints will have been turned into work orders and referred to the company in charge of fixing them, All Star Electric.
Mendoza said it should take All Star two weeks to correct most of the routine problems.
At that point, he said, the city hopes to start moving toward its goal of responding to new complaints on this schedule: three working days to fix a burned-out light, 10 working days to fix a routine wiring problem or replace a knocked-down pole, and 25 working days to make repairs requiring construction work such as replacing pavement or pole foundations or doing directional boring.
Of the approximately 2,400 problems dealt with so far this year, Mendoza said, 73 percent involved routine repairs, 18 percent more complex wiring issues, 5 percent problems with connections to the city’s power grid and 4 percent downed poles.
All told, he said, he expects to fix 16,000 lights this year.
The city plans to spend $5.34 million on streetlights this year: $1.5 million from its general fund, $2.9 million in Disaster Community Development Block Grant money for post-Katrina repairs and $940,000 to begin a conversion to LEDs, or light-emitting diode lamps, which are more expensive but can last as long as 12 years. Mendoza said he hopes to convert to LEDs in four years.
All Star has put eight repair crews on the streets, five in the daytime and three in the evening, Mendoza said. It has three wiring crews, including one working only on lights along interstate highways, plus one pole repair crew and two construction crews.
Although routine repairs began Jan. 18, the other crews started work only recently.
Robinson Industries formerly was in charge of the entire streetlight maintenance system. The work is now divided between All Star, which handles only maintenance and repairs, and Royal Engineers, a local firm certified as a disadvantaged business enterprise, which has partnered with Citelum, a French-based subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, the multinational company that also manages New Orleans’ public transit system for the Regional Transit Authority.
Royal Engineers and Citelum handle management functions such as the work order system and the call center to which outages can be reported. The center, which is staffed from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., can be reached at 504.658.8080 or through the city’s central 311 information and complaint hotline.
Under the old contract, Mendoza said, a routine streetlight repair cost the city $160. The cost has been reduced to $90, he said, and more types of repairs are now classified as routine, such as fixing loose wires or replacing breakers or fuses.
“We are getting more work done faster because we switched the definitions,” he said.
Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said they were delighted by the reports of progress, though they showed some wariness about whether all the promised targets will be met. Head said she wants Mendoza to give an update report to the Public Works Committee this summer.
Bruce Eggler can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3320.