If you’ve traveled Interstate 10 through the city after dark lately, you probably noticed the dozens of lights that are out on both sides of the highway, primarily between South Acadian Thruway and downtown.
City-parish officials cannot say how many lights are out but it’s estimated to be at least 50 and perhaps as many as 70.
It’s been a problem for months that continues to get worse, yet City Hall and Entergy are at something of an impasse over how to fix them.
Why? It’s complicated.
Entergy is responsible for monitoring and replacing burned out bulbs in streetlights, including those along the highway, under its contract with the city-parish.
But that maintenance isn’t as simple as it sounds because changing bulbs on interstate lights requires getting a permit from the state, blocking off a lane of traffic and securing off-duty law enforcement officers to keep the work site safe. As a result, Entergy usually waits until several bulbs are burned out, not just one or two, before undertaking such an effort.
What’s complicating things in this instance is that—for a variety of reasons—city-parish officials are fairly certain the problem with many, if not most, of the nonfunctioning lights has to do not with the bulbs but with the aging fixtures themselves and/or the wires that connect them.
Under the city-parish contract with Entergy, the city-parish is responsible for paying for maintenance and repair of fixtures. Only Entergy or its subcontractors, however, can actually work on the fixtures, which are owned by Entergy.
So while the city-parish has to pay for repairs, it cannot physically make those repairs and Entergy won’t make them until the city-parish agrees to pay.
But that hasn’t happened because Entergy will not give City Hall an estimate of how much it might cost, despite months of back-and-forth emails over the issue.
“We are attempting to get pricing,” says Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel. “We’re not going to just write them a blank check. We have to be good stewards of the public dollar.”
Entergy could not immediately say why it has not provided an estimate to the city-parish on the cost of repairs but says, in a prepared statement, it is working to address the problem.
“Entergy Louisiana is continuing to work closely with the city and parish to develop and execute a plan that addresses interstate lighting from South Acadian Thruway to the downtown area. Despite the Baton Rouge area being heavily impacted by a hurricane and the complexities of performing work along a major thoroughfare … the interstate lighting work remains a priority.”
The statement goes on to say the company will provide an update once a timeline is available.
The city-parish has $100,000 budgeted for highway light maintenance and repair.
Director of Transportation and Drainage Fred Raiford says he doesn’t want to blow the budget on repairing old fixtures, given that the state is going to replace them when it widens I-10.
But the I-10 widening project will take several years and Raiford says he recognizes the lights need to be repaired before then.
“It’s a balancing act,” he says. “But we’re going to get it done. We just need to figure out the best way.”