Streetlight System

How old is Shorewood’s streetlight system?

Much of Shorewood’s infrastructure dates to the early 1900’s and our streetlight system is no exception. Approximately 1,500 fixtures light the Village’s roadways, parks and municipal parking lots. These can generally be grouped in two types:

  • Commercial/ business district area lights are on 240-volt lines. These areas feature decorative lighting on aluminum poles powered by a cable in conduit, grounded system.   Oakland Avenue lighting was upgraded with the 2007-08 streetscape improvements; Capitol Drive was updated during the 2010 WisDOT project.
  • The residential, park and parking lot lights fall on 480-volt lines. The concrete pole style dates to the 1920’s. The system is powered by wire buried directly in the soil with no protective conduit. Records indicate the current wiring was likely installed in the early 1970s and it is not grounded per the current National Electric Code.  Residential lights comprise approximately 75% of the total system.

How does the system work?

  • The system is divided into circuits. Power is distributed to each circuit though one of nine lighting control cabinets. Most of these cabinets are from the 1970’s and have reached the end of their useful life.
  • The cabinets are controlled by timers that turn the lights on/off at predetermined times. These timers can fail and require continual monitoring. The cabinets have many old, antiquated parts that are hard to source currently due to supply chain issues.
  • The lights are powered from the cabinets though underground wiring. This wiring was installed as “direct bury” and not encased in any type of conduit (pipe). Though the wire does have a protective coating, that coating deteriorates over time. Moisture coming into contact with the exposed wire results in a fault in the circuit and ultimately causes an outage. Freeze/thaw cycles and periods of heavy rain increase the likelihood of faults. Determining the exact location of a fault is a laborious task and can take a day or more to pinpoint depending on the size of the outage.
  • The residential portion of the system is powered by 480-voltage. This voltage is no longer commonly used for residential streetlight systems and makes retrofit of the system to LED impossible in a manner compliant with the National Electric Code.

Outages recently seem more frequent and of longer duration. Why?

Actual outages have only increased slightly over the past two years, but several factors have hampered our ability to respond:

  • Our long-time electrician retired in 2021. The Village was not successful in hiring a suitable replacement candidate until very recently. In the interim, an electrical contractor was used to supplement the substitute DPW staff working to keep the lights on. This arrangement increased response time as repairs were performed at the contractor’s availability.
  • The system is antiquated, and parts can be difficult to obtain. Supply chain issues have compounded this problem.

Are some parts of the Village more impacted by outages than others? Why?

Though outages appear to occur in clusters, no one area is more susceptible. While there is no discernable pattern, work in the parkways by other utilities (gas, electric, fiber, cable) and private residents (irrigation systems, pet fences) often causes damage to the streetlight wiring which may not be immediately evident.

Is there a temporary fix? What is being done to correct the issue?

Unfortunately, there is not a reasonable temporary solution. Planning for a system upgrade began in 2015, and several interim steps have been taken, including the replacement of the lighting control cabinets and replacing wiring in conduit during road reconstruction projects, since 2011 approximately 40% of the wiring has been replaced in conduit.  In June 2022, the Village Board voted to use ARPA funding to complete a street lighting system replacement plan. That study is underway and a preliminary presentation will be made to the Village Board by the study engineer on March 6, 2023.

Why wasn’t this addressed sooner?

By now, everyone is probably aware that with the charm of our century-old Village comes aging infrastructure. Balancing operations, fiscal planning, and weather conditions with major infrastructure replacement projects means that the Village is limited in how many projects can be implemented each construction season. Sometimes infrastructure fails at an unexpected rate due to a combination of factors.  

In the last fifteen years, the Village has updated nearly all of its major infrastructure system plans. These plans can be found on the website. Once adopted, a plan is implemented according to condition reports, prioritization and fiscal impact - all of which are reviewed by the Village Board as a part of its annual long range financial planning process.

Maintaining and upgrading Village buildings is also an ongoing effort. Major renovations have been implemented in the recent years.

  • Village Hall ADA renovation 1986
  • Library and Village Center 2002
  • Shorewood Police Department 2018
  • North Shore Fire Department 2020
  • Public Works IN PROGRESS 

Moving forward, how does updating the streetlight infrastructure fit within the Village’s priorities?

The Village does not have a No. 1 infrastructure project.  Annually the Village Board discusses large infrastructure projects, timelines and financial projections during our Long Range Plan update in May.  The Public Works facility has been identified in the plan with a general placeholder, acknowledging that until a future facility site is identified, project cost and timeline cannot be refined.  Similarly, development of a plan to update streetlight infrastructure is also schedule for completion by April 2023.  The estimated cost and timeline for streetlights will also be incorporated and scheduled within the Long Range Plan this May.

 How can I learn more?

Attend the engineer’s presentation at the March 6 Village Board meeting (or view it here after). Stay up to date with the improvement progress at