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New Streetlights Failing, Costing Money On Lake Shore Drive

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Lake Shore Drive Waves

A lane of Lake Shore Drive is closed due to 25-foot waves crashing from icy Lake Michigan. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The city is running into some problems with new halogen street light fixtures it is installing to improve lighting and save money.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, a published report says the costs are going to eat into the projected savings from the new lights.

The new lighting is widely considered an aesthetic improvement along Lake Shore Drive. Gone is the hazy orange-yellow glow of the sodium vapor streetlamps still found on most city streets, replaced on the Outer Drive by ceramic metal-halide fixtures that emit a clear white light.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports


The new lights were installed on Lake Shore Drive between late 2010 and the summer of this year, the Chicago Tribune reports. They are found from the northern terminus of Lake Shore Drive at Hollywood Avenue to just beyond its southernmost point, at 71st Street and South Shore Drive, the newspaper reports.

The lights are supposed to pay for themselves, being more energy-efficient than the old sodium vapor lamps. But Murphy’s Law is in play here, as is often the case with construction projects.

The Tribune reports almost 10 percent of the new streetlights are not working. It is a combination of old electrical infrastructure and problems with new fixtures, the newspaper says.

The city says the weather might have had more of an impact on underground wiring and circuits along Lake Shore Drive, since outages have been far lower in other places where the new lights have been installed, the Tribune reports.

The lights have also been installed along the entire Chicago length of Western Avenue, from Howard Street south to 119th Street, and in about 300 miles of alleys around the city, the newspaper reported.

While city officials initially said contractor Hecker & Co. Inc., which installed the lights, would be responsible for repairs, the Tribune reports it turned out that conclusion was mistaken. The city says Hecker would be responsible for repairs to the fixtures themselves, but the city would be on the hook for problems with electrical infrastructure.

Chicago is the first city to use streetlights with ceramic metal-halide technology, the Tribune reported.

The high-pressure sodium vapor lamps with their familiar orange hue were installed between 1974 and 1977, the Tribune reported.

When late Mayor Richard J. Daley announced the change to sodium vapor in 1973, the new streetlamps were touted for their high energy efficiency and greater illumination, compared with the bluish white-tinged mercury vapor lamps at had been installed in 1959, according to the American Cities and Technology Reader.

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