Street lights in some parts of Austin keep going out

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It’s lights out when it comes to neighborhood improvements this year for the 29th Ward.

Each year, aldermen submit a list of needed improvements and are allocated just over $1 million to be used for infrastructures repairs in their ward. Ald. Deborah Graham said a majority of her menu funds has been used this year to install streetlights.

Several residents complained at a recent ward meeting about having to deal with reoccurring streetlight outages on their blocks. One resident said blackouts were a constant problem in the 2600 block of North Meade Avenue.

Ald. Graham blamed the service disruptions on vandals detaching wires at the base of the light poles or at the master control box. Areas near Harrison Street, and Chicago and Central Avenues, near Columbus Park, have had repeated outages, she said.

“Who would be fearless to unplug a city light pole? Go figure that one out,” Graham said at the Nov. 10 meeting.

Graham said she has been working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to resolve the issue, and security devices will have to be implemented as a deterrent.

“But for now, I think we’re going to be battling with it,” said Graham.

City transportation spokesman Brian Steele said the average response time for outages is four to five days for an entire block and up to two weeks for a single light. Steele said the outage problem is similar to the pothole issues Chicago drivers face. While they are all “high priority,” areas affected by criminal activities or that are handicap accessible take a higher priority because the resources to send immediate assistance aren’t available, he said.

This year, Steele said the city’s transportation agency has seen “hundreds of instances” of vandalism, and it appears to be related to criminal activity. The department has been working with the Chicago Police Department when sabotage is suspected.

For 2011, the department is considering different ways to address the acts of vandalism and the overall response time in affected areas, said Steele.

Residents calling 311 to report outages are advised to track the repair progress with a ticket number, said Graham. She warned that residents who call often about an issue but do not give the tracking number are setting back the response time.

Ward residents from the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood continued to push Graham to resolve a long-standing request to repair a handicapped-accessible curb and large pothole, as well as for the installation of speed bumps to reduce traffic speed on Meade Avenue.

Ewa Rojek said high-speed traffic between Belmont and North avenues have increased on Meade over the last two years, since stop signs and  traffic lights were installed on Austin Avenue.

Graham said she wants to implement a “safe neighbors” program for residents to start a phone tree to dial when light outages occur.

“Our neighbors and constituents are going to have to be a little more vigilant when they see who is doing it,” said Graham, “because we don’t have eyes in all places.”

Residents need to get their requests for street, alley and other neighborhood improvements for next year into the alderman.

Residents who want to report, submit or receive assistance with ward issues may call the 29th Ward office at 773-261-4646. Street and Sanitation issues can be directed to Ward Superintendent Kyle Smith at 312-746-9707 or 312-746-9708.  To make requests in person, ward office nights are held Mondays from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Ward meetings are held the: First Wednesday of the month at Columbus Park Refectory, Second Wednesday of the month at Riis Park and the third Thursday of the month at Amundsen Park.

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