UPDATE: Indianapolis to turn on first new streetlight in 35 years

Indianapolis will end a 35-year moratorium on new streetlights by installing 100 lights in areas with high accident and crime rates, and in growing neighborhoods.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday the move will light up streets that have been dark for decades and help fight violent crime. Last year, Indianapolis racked up 144 homicides, the highest in its history.

Community leaders have been calling for new streetlights to help make neighborhoods safer.

“No longer will we be afraid to walk down the streets at night,” Hogsett said at a press conference Thursday in front of the Paramount School of Excellence, an elementary school on the near-north side.

A few minutes later, just yards from the mayor, a lineman from Indianapolis Power & Light Co. got in a hoist bucket. He pressed a switch and the bucket lifted him about 50 feet in the air, where he installed a street light atop a brand-new pole, and connected the wires.

A crowd of about 50 people applauded. Hogsett said the light would be turned on Thursday night.

“In the coming months, we will see more like it,” he said.

The city said it picked the location on Nowland Avenue, between Oakland Avenue and Parker Avenue, just south of Brookside Park on the near-north side. because it was near an elementary school and was within a police department crime “focus area.”

Many more street lights could follow the first wave of 100, Hogsett said, although he was vague on the number and the timeline.

First the city will await the results of a study funded by IPL on where it would make sense to install new lights, based on crime statistics, population density and existing utility infrastructure, said Rafael Sanchez, president and CEO of IPL.

Hogsett, who took office in January, had promised during his campaign to lift the moratorium, which was put in place in 1981 under former Mayor Bill Hudnut as a money-saving measure.

For more than three decades, as three more mayors came and went, the moratorium remained in place, even as the city’s population grew by more than 100,000.

Hogsett said the moratorium “might have been a good idea 30 or more years ago to save money,” but it was past time to add more light to streets. He said the first phase of the “Operation Night Light” will be funded through cost savings and will require no additional tax dollars.

The city is paying for the additional 100 streetlights through the savings of about $35,000 a month it was able to achieve in a recent IPL rate case approved by state regulators in March, the utility said.

As part of that rate case, IPL also won approval to collect an additional $29.6 million in annual revenues, a move that will increase monthly rates for many households and businesses.

Indianapolis has 92,000 streetlights, but most are paid for privately. The city pays to light only 29,000 lights, spending $5 million a year to do so.

That money comes out of a $40 million pot of gas-tax revenue it receives annually from the state—a fund that is gradually shrinking due to more efficient cars that use less gas and pay fewer taxes.

The city also uses that fund to repair roads, bridges and sidewalks—meaning streetlights compete for funding with road repairs.

In March, state regulators declined to issue an order that would have converted the city’s streetlights to LED technology. Indianapolis officials said the technology would reduce energy use, lower maintenance costs and last longer—saving enough money to help fund more streetlights.

City officials had said they wanted to switch all streetlights over to LED technology to boost efficiency and save money. The savings from reduced city electric bills could be used to add new streetlights and poles, the city said.

But the Indiana Public Utility Commission ruled there was “uncertainty” over what it would cost to retrofit to LED technology, and what the ultimate rate-cost tradeoffs would be.

It suggested the city officials and IPL work out an agreement. “We cannot find that the preference for LED streetlights is universal,” the commission wrote.

For IPL, getting more business could not come soon enough. Last year, the utility saw its operating revenue fall 5.4 percent and profits tumble by 23.6 percent. The company attributed the drop to warmer temperatures this winter.

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