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Fixing Atlanta's broken interstate lights could cost $1 million

7:32 AM, Oct 31, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- Whether it's a burnt out bulb or missing copper wire, Atlanta's interstate lights have left drivers in the dark for months. On Tuesday, 11Alive received a copy of a system wide audit, detailing the extent of the problem.

"I know that there is a need out there to make significant repairs," Public Works Commissioner Richard Mendoza told 11Alive on Tuesday.

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The city hired Brooks-Berry-Haynie & Associates to drive its network of lights, checking each one for damage and assessing repair costs. Mendoza estimates the total bill will reach close to $1 million. He says he has $250,000 right now to begin the work but will have to get council and the community's approval to spend the rest next year.

One reason for the hefty cost is wire theft. After adding up the audit's repair reports, 11Alive learned nearly 10 miles of copper and aluminum wire would be needed to replace what thieves had stolen. That's enough wire to reach from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to City Hall.

The audit also blames outages on basic maintenance, something Mendoza admits he's been unable to keep up with given staffing and budget cuts in recent years.

"The City of Atlanta for the past few years has gone through some challenging budget years like many cities throughout the nation," Mendoza said. "I think the timing is right now to start looking at our transportation infrastructure. I think you'll begin to see some investments made in transportation overall, not just street lights."

To be fair, there is no legal requirement the city provide interstate lights. Drive around metro Atlanta and you'll see there are hardly any lights anywhere on 285, not even through the heavily populated regions of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody.

DeKalb County spends about $46,000 a year to contract with Georgia Power to maintain nearly 800 lights along I-20 and the I-285 interchange.

The city of Marietta manages its own lights along I-75. It has 471 interstate lights between South and North Marietta Parkway, as well as the Delk Road interchange. The city says it spends about $33,000 a year on upkeep.

When 11Alive drove through both communities Monday night, the majority of the lights were in good working order. But as soon as you drove into Atlanta, regardless of the freeway you were on, the lights went off.

"The requirement for communities is public safety," Mendoza said. "When you have an urban core and a high volume interstate system, such as we do, street lights are a valuable asset to have to make sure the roadways are as safe as possible."

He plans to focus initial repairs on the high mast lights along the city's core and lights around freeway ramps and interchanges. The city plans to use more secure hardware and installation techniques to deter thieves in the future.

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