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Fast Track to Smart: State Approves 3 Vendors for Illinois Cities to Get Smarter Streetlights

Illinois signed a deal with three vendors to make streetlight purchases cheaper and easier for local governments.

Smart streetlights will come easier for communities across Illinois.
The state has negotiated contract deals with three smart lighting technology vendors, clearing the way for local governments to move quickly and easily toward installing the devices that can provide LED lighting, wireless connectivity, sensor equipment and other perks to make communities, both large and small, smart cities.
The effort is part of the state’s goal to “find a way to establish Illinois as the first smart state,” said Kirk Lonbom, acting secretary for the Department of Innovation and Technology, in an interview Thursday.
“And that involves our partners out in municipal government and other entities of government. So as we looked across the spectrum as far as where the real opportunities are, to allow agencies to advance their own digital transformation, to better serve their citizens, to reduce cost … smart streetlighting was identified as a clear opportunity,” he added.
The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology led the effort to select three vendors to provide smart streetlighting technology. The state office took the lead on vetting them through the state procurement process, said Lori Sorenson, chief of network operations for the Department of Innovation and Technology.
“They (cities) can skip that step, which is a costly and time-intensive step. And they can go right to these contracts and start working directly with these vendors,” Sorenson added. 
“We’re here to answer questions, share knowledge, with municipalities as they go through this. But we want them going directly with the vendors,” she explained.
Johnson Controls, Globetrotters Engineering, and TEN Connected Solutions are the three vendors that were selected.
If the state makes procurement easier and cheaper, more cities will undertake streetlighting upgrade projects, say officials.
“We’re also hoping that while we’re providing this opportunity, we’re hoping that it will perhaps urge cities to look closely at it, and maybe jump on where maybe they wouldn’t have in the first place,” said Lonbom. “Really, we’re just trying to open up the opportunity to all the cities in Illinois.”
Already, several cities are eyeing the more streamlined process.
“We are excited about Illinois’ Smart Street Lighting project,” said Tom McNamara, Mayor of Rockford, in a statement. “This contract would allow Rockford to control costs, improve the aesthetics of our neighborhoods and increase public safety.”
The three vendors can provide a range of services, going from just purchasing and installing the lighting and materials, to providing adaptive controls, engineering, financing and other services. The vendors can also offer “value added” perks like smart parking technologies.
“Where some cities may be large enough to do this on their own, we think this is still a catalyst for helping them save dollars,” said Lonbom.
Smart streetlighting is increasingly a go-to entrée into the world of smart cities, in part because it places numerous pieces of technology right in the public right-of-way, powered by an existing electric sources. San Diego is involved in a project to outfit 3,200 of the city’s streetlights with sensor technologies as part of a $30 million smart infrastructure initiative to gain insight into parking, traffic, air quality and other concerns. The project builds on an existing initiative to enhance all 14,000 streetlights in San Diego. 
Many cities in Illinois, said Lonbom, “just don’t have the opportunity to pursue some of these things. So we believe part of the state’s role is to help facilitate this overall, bring people together, use the buying power of the state to bring reasonable cost to cities and give them a vehicle to get the technologies.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.