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Wire theft leaves motorists in the dark on I-15

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 2:12 p.m. MDT

Copper thieves cut a hole in a fence and stripped 35,000 feet of copper wire from 11 light posts on I-15.  (Eric Betts, Deseret News) Copper thieves cut a hole in a fence and stripped 35,000 feet of copper wire from 11 light posts on I-15. (Eric Betts, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A massive copper theft in March has motorists on I-15 driving in the dark, and Utah Department of Transportation officials say it could be some time before the lights are back on.

“This is a real issue and it affects people, drivers that are going across I-15 and have to drive in the dark right now because these thieves are out there doing this,” UDOT spokesman John Gleason said.

The lights along a 1-mile stretch of I-15 between 1000 North and 1800 North are out because a thief or thieves in March stripped between 30,000 feet and 35,000 feet of copper wire from 11 junction boxes. Repairs would cost UDOT roughly $60,000.

"We haven't had any arrests," Gleason said. "We are still asking the public to keep their eyes open."

Copper thieves got away with 35,000 feet of copper wire from 11 light posts along a one-mile stretch of I-15. (Eric Betts, Deseret News) Copper thieves got away with 35,000 feet of copper wire from 11 light posts along a one-mile stretch of I-15. (Eric Betts, Deseret News)

UDOT officials say the department doesn't have any money in its budget to replace the wiring.

"This affects you and me and all of us as taxpayers," Gleason said. "This is money that's targeted for snow removal."

Gleason said if UDOT has the funds, it will replace the wire with something other than copper.

"When an area is hit, we replace it with aluminum wire, which is much less valuable for these crooks," he said.

UDOT officials say those responsible for the thefts likely dressed up as a construction crew.

Roughly 35,000 feet of copper wire was stolen from junction boxes along I-15. (Eric Betts, Deseret News) Roughly 35,000 feet of copper wire was stolen from junction boxes along I-15. (Eric Betts, Deseret News)

The Utah Highway Patrol is keeping watch in the area for any unusual activity.

"UHP has been great,” Gleason said. “They’ve actually stopped some of our contractors to ask if they should be out in the area."

Over the past two years, UDOT has spent $450,000 in taxpayer money replacing copper wiring.

After the winter season and UDOT has used the money needed for snow removal, crews will be able to start fixing the wiring in area, Gleason said.

Email: hsmith@deseretnews.com

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