27 Investigates: Youngstown street light outages causing problems for residents

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — To keep the lights on in the city of Youngstown takes money; specifically, residents’ tax dollars.

But residents across the city have told First News their neighborhoods are dark because too many street lights are not working properly.

WKBN’s Damon Maloney canvassed the city and discovered numerous problems that have residents concerned for their safety and others.

Patricia Coney cares about her North Side neighborhood. She grew up on Norwood Avenue and returned to her childhood home in the mid 1990s and permanently in 2009.

Roughly two decades ago, she felt her street was dark and did something to change it. She went through the steps and eventually had a light put up across the street from her house.

“It was dark over here. It was dark, and I was coming home late at night sometimes,” Coney said.

Coney was worried about her safety and wanted to be able to see her surroundings. Today, the light that was installed across the street from her house is still there, and Coney said it is working properly.

But, that is not true of all the lights in her neighborhood.

“Like when I come down Norwood and Wirt, that street light is very dim,” Coney said. “I thought it was out.”

Maloney drove to that intersection and found the malfunctioning light. Initially the light was dark, but after a few minutes it flicked on, then off and eventually back on. But a few minutes later it was back off.

On Crandall Avenue, also on the North Side, Charise Wright showed us a malfunctioning street light.

“It’s been on all day. It hasn’t gone off and sometimes it doesn’t come on in the evening,” Wright said.

And on the South Side, James London of the Idora Neighborhood is trying to get the issue resolved as well.

“We went up and down every street at night and every pole that has a light on it that wasn’t working as is this one, we would put two ribbons on. Every pole that had a light that was very dim, almost orange or looked like it was burning out, we put one ribbon on,” London said.

He has marked about 20, including a light that does not come on at the corner of Winona Drive and Volney Road. He worries about drivers and his neighbors and their security.

“I think a well lit area deters crime,” London said.

In downtown Youngstown on West Commerce Street, there were at least five lights out on the block.

The entrance ramp to the Madison Avenue Expressway near St. Elizabeth Health Center and the Himrod Avenue Express Way each had at least a half-dozen lights not casting a bright glow on the road below.

“It kind of reinforces the perception, ‘oh the street lights are pitch black and you can’t see what’s going on.’ People don’t feel safe,” said Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. deputy director Ian Beniston.

Beniston said malfunctioning lights are a problem across the city. He has heard from residents at recent meetings as the non-profit works to help the city map out a plan to improve neighborhoods.

First Energy/Ohio Edison is responsible for a majority of the lights in the city. We asked them about the most blatant examples of lights not working on the Himrod Avenue and Madison Avenue Expressways.

They said they’re working with the Ohio Department of Transportation and assessing how to make repairs, but couldn’t tell us how long it has been a problem.

People we talked with said it has been quite a while.

First Energy fixes about 1,000 street lights each year, but company officials said they don’t have the manpower, time or technology to know when a light isn’t working, and solving an issue starts with residents telling them what to investigate.

First Energy customers who want to report a street light issue can call 1-888-544-4877 or by clicking here.

Callers will need the pole number or the address or landmark closest to the problem pole. They said once a report is made, most issues are resolved in an average of three days.

Valeria Goncalves, a North Side block watch president, has done her fair share of reporting and passes out information cards to neighbors so they can do the same.

“You have to be very, very vocal,” Gonclaves said.

It has brought light back to her neighborhood, but the work is never over.

“These are older street lights. You just have to stay on top of this matter,” Gonclaves said.

Since our first interview with Jim London, he has met with an Ohio Edison representative to talk about the issues happening in his neighborhood. Light fixes are in the works.

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