Traverse City Record-Eagle


February 16, 2013

Aging infrastructure, thieves darken freeways

DETROIT (AP) — Hundreds of lights along southeast Michigan freeways aren't working due to aging infrastructure, copper thieves and a lack of money for replacements, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Roughly 20 percent of the roughly 5,500 lights on poles that the department is responsible for along freeways in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties are dark, The Detroit News reported Friday. The department also maintains about 5,000 lights under overpasses.

About 1,100 of the lights on poles aren't working, including those on 200 poles removed due to structural deficiencies, said MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi. Poles have been weakened by rust from decades of road salt, high winds, damaged barrier walls or crashes.

"We removed the poles to keep the driving public safe," Morosi said. "We intend to replace those poles, but there's no timetable because we just don't have the funds right now."

Copper thieves also are to blame for some outages, he said.

"It's not like the copper thieves are running out onto the freeway and stealing copper from the poles to sell at scrap yards," Morosi said. "Instead they are attacking the transformer cabinets, many of which are actually located on the service drives.

"We are taking measures to try to keep the cabinets safe and secure, but for every move we make, the thieves come up with a countermove."

MDOT has identified the area around Interstate 94, east of I-75, as one of the worst hit by thieves. In addition to causing hazards for motorists, the thefts themselves are potentially dangerous. In October, MDOT said, a man was electrocuted near I-96 while attempting to steal copper wire from a transformer.

MDOT electricians are working constantly on the lighting problem, Morosi said.

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