Wondering why it takes so long to fix some streetlights?

In the dark, often-rainy heart of winter, a nonfunctioning/malfunctioning streetlight stands out. Right now, West Seattle has more than 20 of them. After a question from a reader, we looked into the current state of streetlight trouble-reporting and repairs. Above is a screengrab from the Seattle City Light streetlight-repair tracking map. Once a streetlight’s been reported, it gets categorized at one of three levels. The most-common type in our area currently, marked by red dots on the map, generally will take a while to fix, the map explains, because: “The streetlight is failing due to issues within the streetlight’s electrical system. … These repairs require engineers to assess and design a solution to fix the streetlight’s electrical system.” Since so many nonfunctioning West Seattle lights are shown in that category, we asked SCL spokesperson Julie Moore to elaborate on what those “issues” tend to include, and whether that means repairs will take months rather than weeks. Here’s her reply:

The most common “issue” is often related to old equipment that needs to be brought up to current standards. As the note on the streetlight tracker says, these kind of fixes require additional time and effort as engineers must assess and design a solution, then it must go through permitting, crew scheduling and construction within the City right-of-way. Another issue that can sometimes prompt this type of solution is wire theft; however, this has not been as prevalent an issue in 2020 as in recent years.

Yes, these “red ticket” repair jobs can take much longer to complete than simple fixes for the reasons described above. Please also be aware that City Light is experiencing significant resource challenges and a growing backlog for certain work, including streetlight repair and new service connections, at this time. Several factors combined created this situation, including a pause in work in response to Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order earlier this year, other COVID-related impacts to our operations staffing model and vacancies, as well as competing priority projects and unplanned essential work. Depending on the complexity of the project, we estimate timelines for completion are weeks or even months longer than in the pre-COVID world.

You may have noticed the pop-up note when you first visit the streetlight tracker site: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Seattle City Light is prioritizing essential critical infrastructure work and doing work in a way that minimizes service disruptions to customers. Crew availability is limited to emergency streetlighting repairs, so we apologize if there is a delay with your request.

We will continue to prioritize emergency repairs to address public safety concerns. Our goal is to meet or exceed our customer expectations and it is disappointing when we do not. We are working on near- and long-term improvements to address the backlog and reduce project timelines.

Some repairs can be completed more quickly, so keep reporting nonfunctioning streetlights – check the map first to see if someone has already made a report – click on a dot to see the address and pole # to verify it’s the same one. There are multiple ways to report a problem – this online form, the Find It Fix It app, street.light@seattle.gov, or 206-684-7056.

19 Replies to "Wondering why it takes so long to fix some streetlights?"

  • Pawk December 30, 2020 (1:19 pm)

    So let me get this straight, Seattle  City Light needs a permit from the city of Seattle to fix a city owned light?

    • Morgan December 30, 2020 (2:19 pm)

      That’s how it works everywhere. Public works in every city in US has to get permits from their own city building departments. All of America has things like this…then add jurisdictional boundaries, county and state government, federal reviews…and you’ll get to see why we don’t just build trains and roads like we used to a hundred years ago or some counties do today. In other words, your sarcastic question is both trifling and profound…to make it work in a way you’d think of as common sense is quite literally impossible at this point. If we were all better informed on the actual processes people have to work within maybe we could question our elected officials in a more constructive, productive way that led to citizen led reform. But cmon, it’s just a couple streetlights. Couple other logistics emergencies happening these days.

    • Peter December 31, 2020 (9:47 am)

      The city is not exempt from building code. 

  • LR December 30, 2020 (1:52 pm)

    Does this seem reasonable in this day and age to anyone?  I wonder how soon a streetlight gets fixed in Germany…

  • West Seattle Neighbor. December 30, 2020 (1:52 pm)

    Another example of the “deep state”!  

  • Stickerbush December 30, 2020 (1:52 pm)

    How many SCL employees does it take to change a light bulb?(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  • Jason here December 30, 2020 (2:41 pm)

    Speaking of (possible) wire theft. If the city is missing some there is a man who parks an RV along the fence between West Seattle Health Club and Nucor steel who I see often stripping copper wire from its black casing. Last time I witnessed this was last week and he had hundreds of feet of wire ready for the recycler. Of course he could be purchasing the cable someplace and stripping it down. That is a possibility. I just noticed it was a lot of cable. 

  • Mj December 30, 2020 (2:54 pm)

    I reported the track lighting at Hiawatha two weeks ago to the Parks Department, they forwarded to the maintenance staff.  How long till they are fixed?  It would seem they should be a priority since the track is heavily used and with the pandemic is one of the few options for people to exercise in the evening time.

    • Kyle December 30, 2020 (6:14 pm)

      I reported the walking path lights being out in the Highland Park Playground to Parks back in October. They’re still not fixed and they couldn’t give me a timeline. Although, they did finally send me an email stating it was on their “backlog” after my third follow up in December. 

    • Kyle December 30, 2020 (6:21 pm)

      Also, I do hope they fix the lights soon! The other running tracks in the area, like the one at SWAC, are closed because they’re on school managed land and not managed by the parks so I’m told. Although they’ll let you schedule an event for $, but they won’t leave the gate open for neighbors to run the track like before covid.

  • SlimJim December 30, 2020 (3:07 pm)

    Invoking the pandemic as another reason why repairing street lights takes so long seems like a copout. I remember several years ago, when there was a thing called the West Seattle bridge, about 1 out of 2 (conservatively) lights were out and remained out for months. The same thing could be seen all over west Seattle, though perhaps less concentrated in area. You’re just slow City Light. Admit it and move on.

  • Buddy December 30, 2020 (5:17 pm)

    What I wonder about is why is it taking years to fix street in Seattle area. 

  • trickycoolj December 30, 2020 (5:26 pm)

    I remember a few years back contacting SDOT/WSDOT on a large dark stretch on the back side of the SB509/1st interchange and it took all winter to fix because of copper wire theft, they had no idea the whole interchange was dark until they inspected it and found all the wire gone.

  • Linda December 30, 2020 (5:38 pm)

    I have to wonder what the timeline for repairs for the red ticket lights was prior to the delays mentioned above.  One of those red ticketed poles in Morgan Junction went out over two years ago in the beginning of November during a windstorm.  We have reported it several times over the ensuing years and discovered at one point it had been flagged as repaired.   We’ve had several times when personnel at City Light have said they would investigate and get back to us only to never hear from them again.  So our neighborhood has been very dark for over two years requiring the use of flashlights after dark.  Car prowls have increased thanks to the cover of darkness, teaching us not to leave anything in our cars.   Based on the information above, I wonder if it’s going to be another two years before the light is finally back on.

  • david December 30, 2020 (9:33 pm)

    Told them street light out on curve going up Marine View Drive hill, south of the ferry dock – in May – I am sure it is probably out still, pole # 9602, in a critical part in the road with a rise and a quick turn.; Gave up after many back and forth emails . Very dark there now and especially in winter months. Oh well

  • Zipda December 30, 2020 (11:25 pm)

    Camera up and running at low bridge while months to fix street lights. One is bit more profitable it would seem.

    • Foop December 31, 2020 (12:33 am)

      Are you implying that SCL is in charge of that camera? They are not.

  • KayK December 31, 2020 (7:40 am)

    Hopefully they can prioritize the 1/2 mile of street lights that are out coming up Olson Pl from Myers Way to Roxbury- serves 4 lanes of traffic on a dark wooded slope – main WSB bypass route – can SDOT throw some funds at that to help?? – we notice they are finally improving the lighting under the SR99 in South Park!

  • Peter December 31, 2020 (10:00 am)

    I’m confused about the comments people are making about getting no response from the city. I’ve reported many street lights out using Find It Fix It, and they’ve always responded within hours and fixed it within days, except for one with engineering issues as discussed above. I’ve also used FIFI many times for other reasons (vegetation blocking sidewalks, drainage issues, traffic signal issues, potholes, etc.) and everything gets taken care of within days. I’ve found the city to be consistently responsive to maintenance requests. 

Sorry, comment time is over.