- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

The District has a backlog of more than 1,000 malfunctioning streetlights, a situation residents and community activists say endangers their well-being and contributes to crime.

Earlier this month the D.C. Department of Transportation began a survey to identify outages, spokesman Bill Rice said. As of Tuesday, approximately 500 outages were on record with about 40 percent of the survey completed, he said, estimating that the actual number will be much higher.

“We estimate between 1,000 or 2,000 of our 66,000 street and alley lights are currently out,” Mr. Rice said. “We try to go to every [neighborhood] and check, but finding each outage can take quite some time because our system is old.”

Terry J. Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, which represents 39 D.C. churches, said it is an “outrage” that more isn’t being done to rectify the problem.

“It’s a travesty that we have spent millions on homeland security, but we can’t keep streetlights on. You go to areas like Tilden Street between Connecticut Avenue and Rock Creek Park, or out on 17th Street in Northwest between Park Road and Newton Street, and you’ll see lights out. D.C. residents need to have service standards that exceed national rates.”

A roughly half-mile stretch of Tilden from Connecticut Avenue to Rock Creek where outages dot the road can be shadowy in the evenings, said Trent Logsdon, 25, a security guard.

“I don’t drive, so it’s not as big a deal for me, but further down on [Tilden], the trees get overgrown, so it gets pretty dark and kind of creepy down there,” said Mr. Logsdon, who lives in the Tilden Street neighborhood.

Mr. Lynch said streetlight outages have played a role in various crimes, including the recent killing in Dupont Circle of a waiter returning home late at night.

“This is a 24-hour city. Some people get home from work at late hours; some people have visitors. If streetlights are out on their block, it could contribute to all sorts of crimes, be it car break-ins, robberies, drug activity, assaults or, worse, murders.”

Adrien Alstad, 55, was fatally shot Aug. 23 in the 1800 block of R Street NW as he walked home from work at Annie’s Paramount Steak House in Dupont Circle. Kurt Williams, 19, was charged with felony murder in the case.

Metropolitan Police said they don’t have statistics that show malfunctioning streetlights as factors in crimes.

“We don’t have any backing numbers, but anything that’s a positive deterrent helps,” said Officer Junis Fletcher, a police spokesman. “But with some of these [criminals] out here nowadays, if they want you bad enough, they’ll [get you]. Unfortunately, these are the times we live in.”

Mr. Rice said that although his tdepartment understands residents’ frustration, fixing an outage isn’t always as easy as replacing a bulb.

“Oftentimes there’s a problem in the pole or the base of the pole. Generally, the further away the problem is from the top of the pole, the longer it will take to fix. Repairs can take longer or shorter, depending on the problem.

“And some of our lights are wired by series circuits, like Christmas lights. If one goes, they all go.”

The department said it has replaced nearly 1,000 series circuits in the past four years, with approximately 300 remaining to be replaced within the next two years.

Meanwhile, the department is implementing a $13.5 million pilot program on North Capitol Street, where 138 streetlight poles will be connected to a database that immediately indicates outages. If results are favorable, the program could be used throughout the city, Mr. Rice said.

On Sept. 10, Mr. Lynch requested that D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairwoman of the Committee on Public Works, hold hearings on the time it takes to make repairs.

“There continue to be delays, lengthy delays of weeks, if not months, for lights to be repaired,” Mr. Lynch said.

“The city has no automatic system for determining when streetlights go out nor is a system in place for effecting timely repairs.”

In 2002, the city took over the maintenance contract with MC Dean Co. from Pepco. MC Dean is allotted $800,000 a year for simple repairs, plus any additional expenses, Mr. Rice said.

Mr. Rice said it will ultimately cost $303 million to upgrade the outdated buried lead cable and gas-pipe conduit that currently hamper the system.

The 900,000 feet of lead cable connected to 9,000 city lights and 1.5 million feet of gas-pipe conduit are prone to damage from dirt and water, he said.

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