Atlanta has a hard time managing and maintaining the tens of thousands of streetlights that illuminate the city’s streets and bolster public safety, a new city audit found.
The report found the city has added streetlights in a “haphazard way,” takes a month or more to make simple repairs, could be paying more than it should for some lights, and doesn’t maintain a current inventory showing their locations and costs.
The time it takes for repairs is far worse than other similar cities, according to the audit.
“This reports tells me what my gut’s been telling me, which is: We’re not very good at this, to be blunt,” Councilman Amir Farokhi, who chairs the council’s transportation commission, said after the audit was presented Wednesday.
The 44-page report comes as the city is installing 10,000 new streetlights through a partnership with Georgia Power. The “One Atlanta - Light Up the Night” initiative, launched under former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration, is aimed at reducing crime and vehicle crashes by providing more lighting in the areas that most need it.
Mayor Andre Dickens has identified the program as a public safety priority, saying in his inaugural address that he wants “to see an Atlanta that is lit up like a Christmas tree from the airport to Phipps Plaza.”
The city’s Department of Transportation already oversees 16,000 streetlights owned by the city and 40,000 run by Georgia Power.
As for their maintenance, the city auditor’s office visited 27 areas across the city after dark and found that 12% of the city-owned lights in those areas weren’t working. That’s compared to about 4% of lights operated by Georgia Power that were out of service.
It takes a minimum of 30 days for city crews to complete a minor repair on a broken streetlight — and up to 98 days for more complicated maintenance, the audit stated. Other cities, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, all take less than a week to complete repairs, according to the report.
“We’re not even in the same league as peer cities. A lot can happen in 30 days,” Farokhi said. “When we talk about improving public safety, streetlights are part of that.”
The transportation department has only one repair crew with two people handling streetlights. Staff members told auditors they would need four crews to provide proper maintenance.
“If (the department) is not repairing streetlights promptly, lights may remain inoperable for extended periods of time and citizens’ and motorists’ safety may be adversely affected,” the audit stated.
Residents can report broken Georgia Power lights to ATL311, the city’s customer service line, though the company is responsible for maintaining the streetlights it owns. Georgia Power declined to provide data on repair times.
“When we talk about improving public safety, streetlights are part of that."
- Councilman Amir Farokhi
The auditors reported the outage of a Georgia Power-owned light in March 2021, and it still hadn’t been fixed in November.
Transportation officials agreed with all 15 recommendations in the report. As the city goes about adding the 10,000 new streetlights, auditors said, it should ensure it can better process service requests. The report also recommended the transportation department develop a plan for managing streetlight costs and keeping track of inventory.
“It was an excellent audit. We fully support the recommendations,” Transportation Commissioner Josh Rowan told the committee Wednesday.
Department officials said a plan is already underway to improve streetlight maintenance. The city is also considering selling all of its lights to Georgia Power. That could increase the overall cost to the city, the audit states. But it would likely improve service.
The full audit is available on the city auditor’s website.