Copper Thieves Turning Out The Lights On Tulsa Highways
TULSA, Oklahoma - Tulsa has 6,000 street and highway lights - and most of them aren't working. It's mainly a problem on the highways where copper thieves have turned out the lights.
The City of Tulsa has a three-person crew maintaining all of the street and highway lights in the city. That's an overwhelming job, but copper theft is making it an impossible job.
All along Tulsa's highways - light poles are down because of traffic accidents - and many of the ones that are standing don't work. It's because copper thieves have pulled out the wire - disabling more than half of the highway lights.
"We've always had some copper theft issues in the city, air conditioning and wiring, but for some reason, since the beginning of summer, we've had an increase - they've really started attacking the highway lighting," said Terry Ball, City of Tulsa streets department.
Just since July, thieves have taken 29 miles of copper wire. That's six times as much as during all of last year. The loss is $191,000 just for the materials.
The city is rewiring lights with aluminum and posting signs to let thieves know.
"They still broke in and cut it, I guess to check if we were lying, but after they confirmed it was aluminum, they left it alone," Ball said.
City employees are driving highways to see where poles are down, and going back at night to see which ones just aren't working. They know of at least a dozen entire circuits that are out leaving miles of highways in the dark.
The city can't afford to repair them all, so the plan is to fix the stretch between the airport and downtown.
"We're starting from Highway 75 to 244, to try and get all the wiring installed and get it relit," said Terry Ball, City of Tulsa. "That's sort of our entry point for people who are visiting, and it's a pretty dark area with lighting, so we're trying to work there so people can see to get where they need to go."
The City could hire out the work, but the estimate is at least a half million dollars to get all the lights working again.