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Chicago reveals plans to modernise city lighting

Steve Rogerson
September 30, 2015
 
Chicago has announced plans to modernise the city’s lighting using LED technology and updating the infrastructure to achieve efficiencies, cost savings and improved performance, without dipping into tax-payer funds.
 
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT) released a request for information (RFI) for the smart lighting project, which seeks to update the city’s electric lighting infrastructure. The goal is to transition the city’s and parks’ lighting to LED technology and to replace outdated infrastructure.
 
A large-scale conversion to more environmentally friendly LED technology should reduce electricity use and utility costs. This overhaul of lighting fixtures and Chicago park district pathway lighting will be financed through cost savings and, potentially, new revenue sources that do not include additional tax-payer funds.
 
“By improving lighting throughout the city of Chicago, we will continue to find more cost efficient ways to operate and provide longer lasting services for city residents,” said Emanuel. “In addition, ensuring that our neighbourhood streets and parks are appropriately lit creates better living environments for our residents.”
 
There are approximately 348,500 outdoor lights across the city, including street, alley, viaduct, pathway and lakefront lights. The lights are all maintained by the city of Chicago and the park district and will continue to be maintained by the city and park district during this project and after its completion.
 
Like other municipal and local government entities throughout the USA, the city and parks are under fiscal constraints that limit their ability to fund major infrastructure projects with tax-payer dollars. These challenges, however, provide the public sector with opportunities for partnering with private sector funders and businesses to develop and deliver upgraded infrastructure projects that not only improve services, but reduce costs and generate new revenue.
 
“This project provides the CIT with an opportunity to partner with the city to modernise lighting in our neighbourhoods, while delivering cost and energy efficiencies to the city,” said CIT executive director Leslie Darling.
 
In addition to the energy savings benefits to the city, the project may also include several non-lighting technology upgrades in which the city uses streetlights as a platform to deliver other public goods and services. By raising revenues or eliminating costs, these ancillary technologies and services may help fund themselves as well as the desired lighting upgrades.
 
The CIT will lead the effort to create a more detailed plan to execute the city’s vision for a more energy efficient, durable, lower-cost and reliable lighting system. This infrastructure investment should create jobs, increase the quality of life for residents, and improve operating conditions for businesses, while the city maintains control of all lighting assets included in the project.
 
Emanuel established the Chicago Infrastructure Trust as a way to provide alternative financing and project delivery on infrastructure projects to the city, its sister agencies and its residents. The CIT’s mission is to invest in infrastructure projects that benefit Chicago’s residents and grow the economy while protecting tax payers. To accomplish this, the trust secures financing to attract capital from private investors.
 
By tapping into funding from private investors, Chicago is able to improve service to its residents and provide better access to facilities, expand and accelerate infrastructure development and improvements beyond the capacity of public funds and city resources, create jobs, and reduce operating overhead at no cost to tax payers.
 
“Modernising our lighting system would be a meaningful investment in a core element of our city's infrastructure and has the potential to enhance public safety in every community across Chicago, which must always be our top priority,” chair of the trust and city treasurer Kurt Summers said. “This first undertaking as a new board is a critical step to ensuring we consider all opportunities, stay true to our mission and deliver impactful results for future generations.”
 
The RFI is available on the CIT’s web site and responses are due back to the CIT by November 16, 2015.