Baltimore to pay BGE $3.5 million to install 6,000 new lights across the city, upgrade existing ones

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A streetlight on E. 27th Street. Photo by Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s long-touted plan to upgrade the lights of Baltimore’s streets moved forward this morning, with the mayor and other officials approving a $3.5 million agreement with Baltimore Gas and Electric to install 6,000 new LED lights across the city.

In addition to those thousands of new luminaries, BGE will be tasked with upgrading 34,150 existing streetlights that still utilize high-intensity discharge bulbs, subbing those out for LEDs.

The program, dubbed B’More Bright, will “provide brighter, more targeted light at a much lower cost” than the current streetlights, and help “brighten dark areas and provide better lighting for residents” living in those places, said Kathy Dominick, spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which is managing the project.

BGE isn’t paying for the supplies; that burden rests with the city. According to German Vigil, another DOT spokesperson, Baltimore will pay $7.5 million for materials, including photoelectric cells, fixtures and other items, during the first phase. The amount to be spent on materials for the second phase “still needs to be determined,” he said.

Pugh Department of Public Works Director Rudy Chow, Comptroller Joan Pratt, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Solicitor Andre Davis approved the $3.53 million installation agreement with BGE without discussion at this morning’s Board of Estimates meeting.

“Installing new and enhanced LED lighting throughout the City is an initiative I pursued soon after becoming Mayor and something I believe is an essential component in our priority of reducing crime and violence,” Pugh said in a statement Wednesday. “Without question, making our streets and neighborhoods brighter supports our aim to make them and our citizens safer.”

As the mayor pointed out, she has promoted a plan for Baltimore to upgrade its street light  since her firstly weekly press conference as mayor, when she told reporters such a move could help deter bad actors in crime-affected neighborhoods.

“I want to light the city up,” she said in December 2016, per the Baltimore Business Journal. “I’m not talking about lights that shine in people’s houses. I’m talking about lights that make it brighter and make people feel safer.”

Her fiscal 2018 budget included funding for the initiative. In an accompanying letter to taxpayers, Pugh said the lights would go “where they are needed most.”

Some have questioned the effectiveness of LED bulbs in Baltimore. As the city began converting its some 70,000 streetlights from sodium-vapor lamps to LEDs in 2012, then-councilman Robert Curran told the Baltimore Brew the lights were improving the view for drivers traveling directly beneath them on roads, but weren’t doing as good of a job illuminating the nearby sidewalks.

LEDs are known to last longer and work more efficiently than sodium bulbs, but are also more expensive. The light they give off is also, well, lighter, than the orange-ish glow emitted by sodium bulbs.

BGE has already been working with the city on subbing out the old lights for newer LEDs in recent years. In an email, company spokesman Justin Mulcahy said BGE has converted more than 90 percent of Baltimore’s utility-owned light fixtures.

BGE “will take directions from the City of Baltimore when determining the locations of the new lights” owned by the city, he said. Pedestrian lights will be included in the initiative.

The agreement sets a deadline of March 31, 2021, for BGE to finish installing the LEDs.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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