Caltrans to spend $12M in repairs to Valley highways after copper theft

FRESNO, Calif.

Moon-lit highways are much more common in the valley. Crooks are going to the extreme, knocking over light poles. One on Highway 41 in Central Fresno was tipped and stripped of its copper wire. Many other overhead lights are still standing, but dark.

"If you get a flat tire and you have to pull over, obviously you're going to be in the dark doing so," Caltrans spokesperson Gloria Rodriguez said. "So when you're sitting there waiting for a tow truck or wanting to change the tire yourself it's very difficult in the dark and it's not safe."

Caltrans is reviewing big plans to hire a contractor to follow the darkened paths and rewire the lights. But, each time that's been done so far the copper is stolen almost immediately. So, new security measures are in the works.

"What it is, it's a special locking lid and it's going to have special bolts where only Caltrans will be able to open those," Rodriguez said.

The crew at Action Towing knows just how dangerous dark valley highways can be. The company's owner splurged recently, spending $5,000 to outfit his trucks with high-intensity lights. Now he can see his work zone and drivers can surely see him.

"They're supposed to move over if they see us working, hardly anybody moves over," John DeCicco said. "But with my lights, the lights I put on the trucks, it helps to keep everybody safe."

Copper theft is rampant across the state. It's eating away at taxpayer and private money by the millions. The estimate to repair and reinforce highway lights about $12 million.

"It takes away from the amount of resources we could have had repairing the roadway, fixing potholes, fixing guardrails, even building new freeways," Rodriguez said.

The Caltrans work likely won't be done until 2015.

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