Spike in road-construction materials in high desert

March 11, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Thieves stealing metal for scrap are aiming big these days in the Inland Empire. Extra large rebar, the metal rods used to reinforce concrete, is disappearing from freeway construction sites. Contractors are trying to cope with the thefts.

Around the I-15 corridor and throughout the high desert, thieves have found a new target in construction zones.

"Over the years we've had a plague of metal theft on our freeways, where they've been stealing our sprinkler systems, our copper wiring for our lighting, our irrigation systems, our manhole covers. But it seems now that there's a spike," said Caltrans spokeswoman Terri Kasinga.

Kasinga says rebar and metal signs have been stolen most often. But thieves have also gotten away with much bigger loot, like a 1,000-pound steel beam from a construction site, and a light pole that was toppled in a car accident.

Kasinga says thieves are even digging up fiber optic cables, which aren't even made of metal, wreaking havoc on Caltrans cameras and costing a fortune to repair.

"We can't continue to maintain our freeway systems, or continue to build with these projects if there's been a major type of theft, like a rebar or major bridge beams, that type of thing," said Kasinga.

Sheriff's deputies also say they've seen metal thefts rise over the past six months.

"Metal theft tends to rise when the price of metal goes up," said San Bernardino County Sheriff's Corporal Randy Naquin. "We've had problems with copper wire thefts, back-flow valves have been a big one because they're made of brass. We've had people stripping wire, stealing wires off of trucks, stealing copper."

And it's not just metal that's being taken anymore. Basically, anything in construction zones that can be sold or traded, is also being targeted.

"Even the landscape aesthetics and the bricks, they'll take that stuff and use it on other construction projects, or they'll trade it with people that they can," said Kasinga. "They'll take anything that's not tied down."

Caltrans is asking for public's help. If you see someone suspicious at construction zones, you're asked to call police.


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