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Seasonal thaw and aging system worsening Milwaukee street light issues

Posted at 5:15 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 19:22:29-04

MILWAUKEE — This year's seasonal thaw has been wreaking havoc on Milwaukee's aging street light system.

The city's Department of Public Works said it happens each year and it gets worse each year.

"They've been kind of different night to night, but I've noticed probably a week ago a lot of them were out," said homeowner Tiffany Benecky.

Benecky moved into Milwaukee's southwest side in the fall.

"It's just really, really dark, especially if I go back out like I do some late-night grocery shopping sometimes, and it's just weirdly dark," Benecky said.

Mark MacRae is the electrical services operations manager for the city's Department of Public Work and says it is an issue across the city.

"Every year the freeze-thaw cycle wreaks havoc on our underground facilities," MacRae said.

We met MacRae as a crew replaced an underground transformer near 73rd and River Bend Drive. A single job can take up to 4 hours.

"Water gets in there, freezes, and breaks it open and that continues until eventually we've got a big enough crack at the water, permeates, and actually corrupts the coils and the whole thing goes bad," MacRae said.

The issue is worse this year as the thaw takes a toll on an aging system, some of which is 70 years old.

So far this year, DPW reported there have been 5,687 calls to Electrical Services. That surpasses what they got over the same time in 2021 when they had 4,943 and 2020 when Electrical Services got 4,204 calls.

"We are working on plans to actually replace the entire system in coordination with that, upgrade the entire city to LEDs," MacRae said.

However, with funding and labor issues there is not a solid timeline.

$10 million in American Rescue Plan Act money will help speed up the process for some of the most troublesome circuits, but the city still needs people who can handle the specialized tasks.

In the meantime, DPW is making repairs as they come up and moving more staff to work on the current issues.

If you need to report a street light outage call (414) 286-CITY (2489). You can also submit a report online here or download the app here.

Check out DPW's job posting here.

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