public safety

‘Light at the End of the Tunnel:' Investigators Help Get Streetlights Fixed

Residents say the streetlight repairs are essential for public safety, and yet in some cases it has taken hundreds of days, if not years, to have complaints resolved

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Residents in Onset, Massachusetts, reached out to the NBC10 Investigators to help get the streetlights back on. According to town records, some of them have been out for years.

Drew Framson said people are fed up.

"If you can’t walk the streets safely at night… something’s not right," Framson said.

According to the Town of Wareham, the ornamental streetlights were installed in the late 1970s. People we spoke with said they bring a colonial style to their village, calling it, "the flavor of Onset."

David Cowan is a local business owner. He’s been trying to get the lights back on for years.

"I noticed how dark my street was in front of my house when somebody from down the street yelled over, and I couldn’t even see them," Cowan said.

Cowan walked up and down his entire street, counting the lights.

“There’s 21 light poles on this street, and 12 are inoperable,” Cowan said. “They have not worked since I’ve lived here for five years.”

At one point, Cowan said a group of volunteers went around town numbering the poles to keep their own records of working streetlights.

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Charlie Person told us he sat down with the town administrator last year to try and get answers. He believes it’s a public safety issue.

“Is that what it’s going to take, someone to get hurt, hit by a car? God forbid,” Person said.

Marian June Rose lives on the corner of Onset Avenue, one of the busiest roads in town. And she’s seen quite a few accidents. Rose was sitting in her living room when a car slammed straight into a utility pole, narrowly missing her home.

Crews came out and replaced the pole, but no streetlight.

"I figured it would probably take a couple of months," said Rose.

That was years ago. Eversource said they are waiting on town officials to follow up and finish the repair.

Now Rose spends her time decorating the entire exterior of her home, from cutting up reflective construction vests to putting up a waterfall of Christmas lights from her birdfeeder, hoping it will help cars see her house from the dark road.

"Anything to make this visible at night," she explained. "They should have a light there, and it would be safe for everybody, not just me."

The NBC10 Investigators obtained town records dating all the way back to 2013. In just under a decade, we found more than 1,000 complaints of broken streetlights. Some of them took hundreds of days—or even years—to resolve.

Between 2013 and 2018, the five-year span with the most complete data available, there were 575 complaints, and the average repair time was 260 days. To see the full list of complaints in that time period, see below. The map below represents any complaints in that time period that took more than one year to resolve - there were 121.

Note that the map created above was made based on town records and exact addresses were not always available. When unavailable, the map marker represents a point on the street name provided in the data.

On December 23, 2014, a broken light was called in on Barrett Way. According to records provided by the Town of Wareham, that complaint was not resolved until August 1, 2018. That’s a total of 1,317 days.

And it’s not just the residents calling to complain. In January of 2017, the utility company, Eversource, called the Town about a broken streetlight. According to the records, it took 250 days to fix.

Then in October of 2017, the Wareham Fire Department called about another broken streetlight. That problem wasn’t addressed for 10 months.

For weeks, the NBC10 Investigators called and emailed the Town of Wareham to schedule an interview to discuss the topic. We also eventually paid a visit to Town Hall.

The Town Administrator, Derek Sullivan, declined an on-camera interview, but later sent us a statement telling us $50,000 has been added to the 2022 budget to focus on the ornamental streetlights. He added that the work began at the end of last year.

The statement concluded:

“We understand that there are many diverse and important needs across our community and that especially in today’s environment that the timeframe to meet those needs is not always ideal.  However, the Town has been taking financially prudent action and will continue to do so to address issues such as these.”

Click here to read the full statement from town officials.

Shortly after the NBC10 Investigators got involved, homeowners spotted crews all over town this month, upgrading and repairing dozens of lights.

We went back to Onset to visit with David Cowan, who’d previously counted a dozen inoperable lights on his street. He told us all 21 lights are now functioning.

 I’m glad they finally put some time and money into it and fixed them, I hope once and for all,” Cowan said. “There’s now a light at the end of my street – just like there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

The NBC10 Boston Investigators were called to Onset in Wareham, Massachusetts, to look into why the local government was taking so long to fix a number of much-needed street lights.

Full statement on street light repairs

"Approximately, four years ago the Town of Wareham implemented a program where instead of simply fixing streetlights we upgrade them to LED. The cost is similar and the Town saves on electricity costs while reducing carbon emissions.

"This has been a successful program as 587 of the Town’s 1,675 streetlights have been upgraded to LED. In Fiscal Year 2017 the Town expended $137,350 in electrical costs for streetlights. That number reduced to $90,476 by Fiscal Year 2022.

"The Town has begun using those savings to repair/upgrade more streetlights. Additionally, the town has added an addition $50,000 in this year’s streetlight budget to help replace, repair and upgrade more of the ornamental lights.

"You have asked if the Town has been repairing ornamental lights? 

"Yes, please see attached documents labeled repairs 1, 2 and 3 for the current and two previous fiscal years. So far through January 10, 2022 the Town has expended $26,972.58 on ornamental light work. 

"As you have read, the work goes back to 2021 so you are aware that this is not a project started in the last few weeks. We are currently upgrading and repairing the heads rather than full replacement. This saves about several thousand tax dollars per light.

"As of today there are six more that need head replacements to be fully functional.  We expect those to be resolved in the next few weeks. There is an issue of underground wiring that is triggering breakers. The winter we had has exacerbated that situation.  This will be a longer term solution as it will require excavating sidewalks and rerunning wires that in some cases are original.

"The Wareham Board of Selectmen have approved over $845,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds projects specifically for the Onset Village area.  Any of those projects that impact areas with ornamental lights and sidewalks will help solve the wiring issues for those lights.. 

"You’ve asked about public safety with the ornamental lights located in Onset.  There are certain areas where the ornamental lights are the only lights and others where there are streetlights above them. Please see pictures labeled Onset Ave and West Blvd for examples.  Regardless of public safety or not the ornamental lights were first installed in the late 1970’s and people have come to enjoy them which is why we are in the midst of this program to keep and convert the lights.

"There is a caveat that not all residents of Onset enjoy the ornamental lights. Some are being vandalized due to what we believe people feel is light pollution. The vandalization ranges from cut wires, to broken heads with LED bulbs stolen, unscrewed bulbs and spray painted glass. 

"We understand that there are many diverse and important needs across our community and that especially in today’s environment that the timeframe to meet those needs is not always ideal. However, the Town has been taking financially prudent action and will continue to do so to address issues such as these."

Full list of street light complaints (2013-2018)

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