Thieves And Lack Of Money Leads To Street Light Problems

Wednesday, March 28th 2007, 9:13 pm
By: News On 6

Some are blaming a deadly accident this month on the lack of street lights on Tulsa highways. Earlier this month, a woman was killed when she tried to cross Interstate 44. But News On 6 anchor Scott Thompson reports there are more hurdles to keeping the lights on than just the flip of a switch.

"Our biggest challenge is just a lack of resources," Tulsa traffic engineer Mark Brown said.

Brown says it all starts with the bottom line. He says the city doesn't have the money to do proactive maintenance, only repairs, like those being done on along the Sand Springs Expressway where a car hit a light pole. That one broken light put eight other poles in the dark until the circuit could be rewired. It's kind of like a strand of Christmas lights.

"One fuse can knock out 20 lights," Brown said.

Brown would like to revamp the entire system, parts of which are 40 years old, but it's a matter of money. Two years ago the city updated just 5% of the system at a cost of a $250,000. Special funds like those haven't been seen since. Still, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of running the lights, $1.5 million a year. Another challenge is keeping the wire in the lights. Brown says copper thieves have hit 10% of the city’s system.

"People that put on an orange vest look just like a city employee, but they're out there stealing our cable," he said.

Add complications from lightning and severe weather, and Brown says its all the city can handle to just repair broken lights. But Brown says that is a simple challenge compared to getting the money for a lighting overhaul.

"Having the proper resources to go out and really maintain it right gets to be tough for us," he said.

Right now, the city of Tulsa is trying to get with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to work out a way to split the costs to replace the oldest lights on the highways across the city.