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Street Lighting

This page provides basic information on street lighting for local governments in Washington State, including relevant statutes and legal opinions, as well as examples of local street lighting standards, policies, and rates.

Legal References


  • Ch. 35.43 RCW – Local Improvement Districts
  • RCW 35.72.020 – Authorizes street lighting as part of what street latecomer agreements may reimburse
  • RCW 36.88.015 – County Road Improvement Districts - Additional purposes - construction, installation, improvement, operation, and maintenance of street and road lighting systems for any county roads
  • RCW 54.16.120 – Local utility districts authorized for providing street lighting
  • Water-Sewer Districts
    • RCW 57.08.060 – Water-Sewer Districts - Powers as to street lighting systems -- Establishment
    • RCW 57.16.010 – General comprehensive plan of improvements (4) For a general comprehensive plan for street lighting, the commissioners shall investigate all portions and sections of the district and adopt a general comprehensive plan for street lighting for the district suitable and adequate for present and future needs
  • RCW 82.80.040 – Street Utility - The provision may include street lighting; however in Covell v. Seattle, 127 Wn.2d 874 (1995) the street utility street utility charge was declared unconstitutional. Seattle adopted a street utility ordinance, but the court held that the street utility charges constitute a property tax, and that they violate article 7, section 1 of the state constitution, because the tax is not uniform.
  • RCW 87.03.016 – Irrigation Districts - District may provide street lighting — Limitations

Selected Court Decisions

  • Okeson v. City of Seattle, 150 Wn.2d 540 (2003) – [Street Light Utility] – The question of whether a city has authority to incorporate the expenses of city streetlights within the electrical rates charged to customers of the city's electrical utility depends upon (1) whether providing streetlights is a governmental or a proprietary function of the local government; and, (2) whether the costs imposed upon utility customers are a tax or a fee. In this case the court determined that maintenance of a street lighting system is a governmental function and the street lighting charges imposed on utility ratepayers was not lawfully imposed in accordance with express statutory or constitutional authority. Maintenance of a street lighting system is a governmental function and shifting streetlight costs to ratepayers is designed to raise revenue for the general city budget. Because there is no relationship between electricity used by utility customers and energy used by streetlights, these charges are a tax not a fee.

Attorney General Opinions

  • AGO 2001 No. 1 – Cities and towns lack the authority to operate their street lighting as a utility or to impose a charge on the city's utility customers for the cost of furnishing street lighting, 01/17/2001

Sample Design Standards

Ordinance and Policy Provisions


Recommended Resources

Last Modified: February 27, 2023