Detroit hikes water rates, but installs streetlights
Detroit news roundup.
Published: June 17, 2014
But in spite of all that, Detroiters will likely now have to dig deeper into their pockets to pay the bill each month, so the councilman urges anyone who’s having an issue to call the DWSD to try finding a solution.
“If you’re having problems,” Benson says, “call the department.” Their number is 313-267-8000.
With regard to those rate increases, City Council was expected to consider them after this rag went to press. Check the online version of this story to see how things shook out.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
There was some news last week that brightened the gloomy faces of News Hits. The Detroit Public Lighting Authority announced it plans to install almost 15,000 more streetlights than previously estimated, as it expects to have $20 million more to work with from an upcoming bond sale.
The authority, approved by Detroit City Council in 2013 to overhaul the city’s dilapidated streetlights, said it would borrow $180 million to roll out a plan to restore neighborhood streetlights. The initiative has been a focal point in Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration since he took office in January.
ODIS JONEs, chief executive of the authority, said in a statement that the bonds will allow work to “continue uninterrupted” over the duration of two-year plan.
“It also means 15,000 more lights for residents, bringing our total number of lights to 64,500 LEDS,” he said.
Although Detroit is currently tied up in bankruptcy court, the judge overseeing the case says the lighting authority’s revenues won’t be affected. So the Michigan Finance Authority will move ahead with issuing the bonds, and likely sell them by next month. The lighting authority says the bonds will be paid back solely through portions of a utility tax, an estimated $12.5 million annually.
Though it’s certainly positive news, the first thought on our mind was how the long-overdue lighting system overhaul would be affected by scrappers. Estimates previously suggested upward of 40 percent of the city’s copper-wired lights were busted. (The Michigan Department of Transportation also ran into trouble last year, losing millions on repairs to I-94 lights ripped out by scrappers.)
But Kelsey Hartung, spokesperson for the authority, said the agency doesn’t expect trouble: The lights are constructed using aluminum wiring, not copper.
“None at all,” she says.
In April, the city wrapped up the first phase of a pilot program on lights with overhead wiring. It’s expected to finish the second phase — underground wiring along major corridors like Woodward and Gratiot Avenues, as well as the pilot site — later this summer.
As for the specifics of the new plan, blocks longer than 700 feet will have two or more evenly spaced lights; those that are 300- to 700-feet-long will have one light in the middle of the block. Blocks shorter than 300 feet with a working light won’t be replaced, and will remain until they burn out.
The authority says it’s heading back to the pilot sites to revamp those streets to spec. Besides that, Hartung says, the only change to the plan because of the new funding is that more lights are coming.
“That’s the best thing,” she says.
ABOUT THAT COMMUTER RAIL LINE
Frequent readers of Metro Times might recall investigative reporter Ryan Felton’s deep dive into the history of Detroit’s struggle to implement an efficient public transit system earlier this year.
In what was one of the most depressing facts Felton highlighted, it seems lawmakers today haven’t learned anything. When the state Legislature passed the law establishing the RTA in 2012, lawmakers actually made it more difficult for the board to approve a rail line in the future — such as the proposed Ann Arbor-to-Detroit commuter line. It was essentially a dictated bias. The agency only needed a supermajority — seven of nine votes — to approve, say, a tax to fund operations and upfront capital costs for the region’s highly publicized bus rapid transit plan.
But to construct or operate a rail line, like the Ann Arbor commuter route or the M-1 streetcar downtown, a unanimous vote is required. Considering M-1 Rail officials signaled their intention to transfer the streetcar to the RTA’s oversight after 10 years, it was quite the glaring discrepancy sent from Lansing.
Well, somebody in Lansing must be reading us, because lawmakers in the state House came to their senses last week. Amid the hullabaloo surrounding the state Senate’s inability to pass any sort of road funding package before heading to an unnecessary two-month vacation, the House passed a bill addressing that RTA bias, paving the way for an Ann Arbor-to-Detroit line.
House Bill 5168, which passed in an 82-26 vote, amends the RTA law to allow the authority to operate the M-1 streetcar, as well as the proposed commuter rail line, if a supermajority of board members approve, rather than a unanimous vote. State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) offered the amendment.
“This rail project would bring a surge of new economic activity to Ann Arbor, Detroit and all the communities in between,” Zemke said in a statement. “I will continue to do everything I can to make this proposal a reality.”
The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
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