Chicago Light Overhaul To Cost Double That Of New York’s

The mayor appears to have generated more headlines than results with a privatized infrastructure spending proposal that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than he said it would.

Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday put a price tag of $160 million on a long awaited overhaul of city streetlights, more than double what a similarly sized program in New York City is expected to cost. 

The mayor also said the four-year switch to 270,000 energy efficient LED lights will be managed by city’s transportation department, not the privatized infrastructure trust he once touted as central to innovative public works plans. 

A city transportation spokesman said the higher costs were due to a more complicated and sophisticated lighting program for Chicago than New York. Chicago’s program, he said, provides for replacing both light fixtures as well as some poles and wires. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces the contractor for the $160 million at a press conference in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces the contractor for the $160 million at a press conference in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.  Alejandra Cancino | BGA

In addition, the installation in Chicago will include a new management system that will alert officials when a light needs replacing.

Official said the work is scheduled to begin this summer, though earlier the mayor had predicted it would be ready to go by the spring. 

The infrastructure trust, which has had the lighting overhaul on its to do list since 2013, acted as a procurement manager for the project and helped the city select Massachusetts based Ameresco as the lead contractor. The deal still requires City Council approval. 

That role for the infrastructure trust is far different—and reduced--from how Emanuel proclaimed it would be when he launched the initiative 2012 with former President Bill Clinton by his side

Hailing the trust back then as a model of out-of-the-box thinking, Emanuel said it would find innovative ways to attract private investors to pay for infrastructure projects. The idea was to free taxpayers from cost and risk.

 Instead, as the Better Government Association has reported, the street lighting project will be financed with city bonds and other public financing – the traditional way of paying for infrastructure. 

 Leslie Darling, the trust’s executive director, said at a press conference Tuesday that the trust helps the city “do major initiatives that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

Over its five year history, however, there is little evidence that the trust has fulfilled that goal, the BGA has found.