Repeated thefts prompt MoDOT to install overhead cables for highway lights

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One lane of traffic is shut down this week along Bruce Watkins Drive, as the Missouri Department of Transportation repairs wiring for hundreds of highway lights.

The state is trying to discourage theft of copper wire.

Vandalism of lights has been a big problem for MoDOT in the last year, with thieves making about 1,000 lights inoperable, after stealing copper wire for its scrap value.

MoDOT has tried installing theft deterrent doors at the base of light poles, and electricians have changed the way the wiring is installed to make it harder to steal.

Still, it seems once lights have been powered back on, the wiring is stolen again.

So now, workers are stringing cables overhead from pole to pole, instead of having it at ground level where it's a lot easier for criminals to reach.

"We have been spending close to a million dollars this year on repairing cable theft," Susan Barry said, assistant district engineer for MoDOT. "Basically we’ve got locations where we fix it, and then they steal it again. So, it’s an ongoing problem. That’s why we’re trying to find better ways to keep them from stealing it in the first place."

Running wire overhead does not look the best, compared to burying it underground, but Barry says public safety is more important than aesthetics.

In September, a driver struck and killed a 55-year-old woman in a wheelchair on Bruce Watkins Drive, along a dark section of the highway without electricity, because of copper thefts.

Power has already been restored to about 700 lights along U.S. Highway 71 and Interstate 70, with the remainder to be finished in the next two weeks.

Anyone tinkering around at the base of a light pole should prompt a call to police Barry says the thieves often pretend to be maintenance workers.

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