Atlantic City, once known as the resort that’s “Always Turned On,” has a problem applying that old motto to its streetlights.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority estimates that hundreds of streetlights throughout the city are dark, and in a number of cases the light poles are missing altogether, possibly as the result of traffic accidents or weather-related damage.
Addressing the problem has been challenging. There is confusion in some cases as to whether the city or the electric company owns the poles, as well as which party is responsible for maintenance.
What’s more, the CRDA believes there may be nonexistent poles that the city — and thus taxpayers — continue to pay for each month. So far, estimates come only from visual surveys observed by CRDA staff. Generally, monthly electric bills charge a fixed rate per fixture.
That specific information would be city knowledge, but Atlantic City Engineering Director William England did not return calls last week. Public Works Director Paul Jerkins, who oversees the city engineering department, was on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment.
However, the CRDA is seeking a solution to the streetlight problem, starting with an allocation of $15,000 for a geographic mapping of the city. That process should help determine who owns the streetlights and who is responsible for fixing them.
CRDA Executive Director John Palmieri said it’s one of the most basic issues that needs to be addressed to meet the state’s goal of improving safety within the Tourism District. The imminent $15,000 mapping, which will be completed by CRDA engineers used on an as-needed basis, will include an analysis of street lights throughout the city, not just in the state-run district.
“I think I’m speaking for everyone in this room. I don’t know why we have to do this,” Palmieri said recently at a CRDA meeting. “But it’s come to that point where the lights are a problem. I think all of us have stories. ... No one can be pleased.”
This is the second issue recently tackled by the CRDA in which officials have remarked that the state authority has been forced to use its financing to address problems that they say are the city’s responsibility. The need for resolution has outweighed any ongoing battles over obligation, officials said.
“To this point, nobody has paid attention,” CRDA board Chairman James Kehoe said.
The authority also recently voted to provide the city with financing for two full-time code enforcement officers assigned to the Tourism District. City officials, meanwhile, have said budget constraints mean the city needs additional help to fix the problems.
Tom Meehan, the CRDA’s director of project implementation and management, said there are several scenarios pointing to maintenance responsibilities and payment plans.
In some cases, the electric company — in this instance, Atlantic City Electric — owns the poles and is fully responsible for maintenance. In others, the poles might have been paid for by the city or through a CRDA development program, and the electric company might only be partially responsible for maintenance and replacement.
“We’re trying to bring Atlantic City up to a higher standard,” Meehan said. “We’re not here to point fingers. We’re just here to try to improve the situation and figure out what we can do to create a better experience in the city.”
Atlantic County Engineer Joe D’Abundo said that while he’s not familiar with the specifics of Atlantic City’s situation, he understands the complications over ownership, particularly with both the city and the CRDA engaging in road-widening projects over the years.
The problem of missing streetlights, however, is more curious, he said, noting there is usually a “seamless transition” between the time a pole is taken down by an auto accident and the time it is replaced.
The process entails making a comprehensive list of where all of the streetlights are located — or are meant to be located — throughout the city, deciphering who owns them and what type of service agreement exists. If poles are missing, officials will determine where and whether electricity is still being paid for at that location.
How long the mapping process will take and how much it might cost to fix the problem are unclear, as is who will bear that cost, officials said.
“A comprehensive program needs to be in place to address this. We just don’t have the light levels the city needs to maintain,” Meehan said.
Officials have stressed that the return of the Miss America Pageant in September makes the need for addressing citywide maintenance issues even more pressing, as the resort will be receiving prime-time television coverage.
Resident William Cheatham, a member of the CRDA’s Tourism District Advisory Committee, said pageant or no pageant, the city’s residents deserve to live in a place that’s safely lit.
“I don’t really care who owns the poles. You’ve got children playing in an area that’s dark,” Cheatham said. “It can be done. All it takes is people to be more concerned about their city.”
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