Newell: Why is it taking 8 weeks to repair a traffic light?!

Newell goes one-on-one with New Orleans City Councilmember Joe Giarrusso to discuss bizarre infrastructure hang-ups

Newell Normand
July 22, 2019 - 6:02 pm

Would you spend four times the given amount to repair something in your home? Would you find it acceptable if you were told it would take 8 weeks?

Those are just some of many questions that New Orleans city leaders are facing right now, and City Councilmember Joe Giarrusso sat down in-studio for an extensive interview with Newell Normand, on topics ranging from traffic lights to drainage pipes to tax assessments.

"This just seems like... not a good thing!" Newell began, referring to reports that the relationship between the City and the company contracted to do repairs on traffic lights had taken a turn for the worse. 

"That's an understatement," Giarrusso replied. "So let's talk about a couple of different things, number one is, how long it's taking to get traffic lights repaired in the city... the one at St. Charles and Nashville took eight and a half weeks. The one at Carrollton and Oak was seven weeks."

What accounts for that?

"Jefferson Parish, apparently, has the same cabinets and boxes that can use all the same materials,  New Orleans has different systems so nothing matches. So one of the conversations we started having with DPW was, look we know lights are gonna break, its an old city, we hav problems - can we start maintaining an inventory on hand where we have a couple of each cabinet so that way the delay isn't as severe? I consider that issue number one."

There is another issue at hand - the company that the City has had contracted to do those traffic light repairs were not happy to learn that even while they were negotiating with the City to determine a payment schedule for nearly half a million dollars in unpaid invoices, the City was soliciting offers from a different company to do the same work, for four times the price.

"I did talk to the City Attorney, who says the bid being four times higher isn't right, that's what they're telling me. But I also think you want to make sure bid law is being followed the right way, and if there's a TRO, let's press pause and make sure we go before a court and get things done the right way before you start doing new bids.

Newell followed up, "Had there been unhappiness with the predecessor company? One of the things they said is they hadn't even been notified of work orders that had been out there, and that may have been why there was this delay in repairing some of these lights. Do we know anything about that?"

"The only thing I know is there was some frustration from the City's end that the contractor had been doing a lot of work in the past and weren't being as responsive as the city wanted, but of course, if you're owed a couple hundred thousand dollars, that's gonna slow down your responsiveness - you wanna get paid before you do more work... when the client isn't paying you, its tough to keep running that meter. Its important, obviously, contractors get paid - a lot of the Fair Share money the Mayor has gotten is going to make sure contracts get paid, we just gotta make sure were getting people out there to do the work and do it timely."

"But," Newell interjected, "Fair Share money isn't going to red lights?"

 "It isn't, in theory," Giarrusso said. "We just got a presentation in Council chambers... some of it is going to things I need, like the alleys being repaved in Lakeview which have been a major issue for years, clearing catch basins. The bottom line is, we have a millage on lights and street maintenance, and that's what the money ought to be used for."   

For the entire conversation between Newell and Councilmember Giarrusso, listen below.

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