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'We’re not very good at this' | Newly released audit reveals problems with Atlanta's streetlights

The audit found that the city has not managed street lighting in a purposeful or cost-effective manner.

ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta plans to add thousands of more streetlights, but a new audit has some questioning whether the city can handle more lights.

The audit ran from July of 2018 through March of 2021, but the results were just released at a City Council Transportation committee meeting Wednesday.

"This report tells me what my guts been telling me – that we’re not very good at this,” City Councilmember Amir Farokhi at the meeting said. 

The audit found that the city has not managed street lighting in a purposeful or cost-effective manner. It went on to say that the city does not have a complete inventory of the lights so they could be paying Georgia Power for streetlights that aren’t even there.

It also found that 12% of the city-owned lights and 4% of the lights owned by Georgia Power weren’t working.

When it comes to repairs, the report found that it takes a lot longer to make repairs to streetlights in Atlanta than in other cities. A repair in Washington D.C. would take four days, whereas, in Atlanta, it could take around 30 days.

“The most damning slide to me was how long it takes for us to repair a light – we’re not even in the same league as peer cities – a lot can happen in 30 days,” Farokhi said.

The audit also gave some recommendations like creating a plan for managing costs and agreements, quarterly physical audits on a sample of lights, assigning staff for streetlight record-keeping, and including provisions for billing credits when there are outages above a certain threshold.

“When we talk about improving public safety, streetlights are part of that and if we’re gonna live up to our commitments, we’re gonna have to figure this out and straighten this out,” Farokhi said. 

The ATLDOT said that they had already started implementing many of these recommendations before the audit was released.

“ATLDOT has worked with Georgia Power for the past 15 months to evaluate the condition of streetlights, billing, approval, and more (and is) finalizing legislation to sell 10,000 City-owned lights to GP (Georgia Power) for $2 Million dollars,” ATLDOT Commissioner Josh Rowan said. 

“The work will include all repairs and upgrades to LED. Atlanta's streetlight inventory will expand to 60,000 lights – all of which will be leased from Georgia Power. ATLDOT will reassign the streetlight maintenance crew to traffic signals,” Rowan said. “Two thousand new replacement lights have already been installed on numerous corridors to include Fairburn Road, Joseph E Boone, and Peyton Road.”