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Left in the Dark: Milwaukee streetlights extra dark last winter

Posted: 2:00 PM, Apr 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-11 03:20:27Z
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Left in the dark — it's how a lot of Milwaukee neighbors feel, wondering why their tax dollars did not keep the streetlights on last winter.

Susan Kasprzyk owns CJ's Sports Bar on Milwaukee's south side. She's called her alderman's office frequently.

"I came out of the bar and I looked and all the way to Sixth Street, and then I walked all the way up to see how far they were out, and it was all the way to 13th Street, as far as I could tell," she explains of discovering the lights were out near the bar one evening.

When she hears from people coming in that it's dark, she calls right away.

"We've had some break-ins when the lights were on, you know, so it gets kind of scary when the lights aren't on," Kasprzyk said.

It's apparently a popular complaint around Milwaukee. The I-Team got call records from three of 15 Milwaukee aldermanic offices. Just those three offices had hundreds of complaints during the last year.

Some report lights out for days, weeks or months.

Kasprzyk wonders why the lights are out so often. Finally, she got to ask that question to Tom Pechacek, the head of the Electrical Services Department.

The I-Team also sought out Pechacek to get answers to Kasprzyk's question. We asked if it's about an older infrastructure in the city. He said that is part of it as his department works to replace old wiring.

"It's a slow, arduous process. We still have old circuitry in about 40 percent of the city, and the new stuff is in about 60 percent of the city," said Pechacek.

Slow and arduous — that's what people appear to have concerns about. Pechacek said the city tries to have lights back on within 24 hours. But, a tough winter complicated matters. The city's wires sit underground, so when there's lots of snow and the ground is frozen, they have to dig first, sometimes going to great effort.

They work no matter the weather. Those minus-40-degree days when you stayed inside? Crews were out. Schools closed? Crews were out. And February was a record year for them. Pechacek reports:

The city usually has about 225 issues each month. In February, it was more than 500.

Plus, he faces another big challenge.

"We're having a tough time getting people, and so our staff is down 15 electricians right now of what I'm budgeted for, and that is certainly causing a problem with our response time," he said.

The crew the I-Team met up with was three people, but crews often work in pairs. That means the city's down at least five crews. Plus, they have apprentices who can't work on their own, further limiting the amount of work the department can get done.

It's a slow, arduous process. We still have old circuitry in about 40 percent of the city, and the new stuff is in about 60 percent of the city." — Tom Pechacek, head of the Electrical Services Department

"We're not going to put safety on the back burner," Pechacek assures the I-Team. "We are very in tune to making sure our streets are safe, and that means well-lit," he said.

That's what Kasprzyk expects.

"I pay taxes, I want to see my streetlights on every night."

To file a light complaint to the city, you can use this link or call 414-286-CITY.