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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wire thieves put out freeway lights

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

Parts of the H-2 Freeway are dark at night because thieves have repeatedly made off with lengths of copper cable linking streetlights. Drivers will be in the dark for several months while the state waits for a shipment of cheaper aluminum wire and seeks a contractor.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Police ask anyone with information about the thefts to call 911 or CrimeStoppers at 955-8300.

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A plate covers the access port to the wiring inside a streetlight pole.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Stretches of the H-1 and H-2 freeways are dark at night because thieves have stolen copper wire linking the lights to sell on the black market, police and state transportation officials said.

So far, the copper bandits have cost taxpayers more than $100,000 in parts and labor and more than 100 street lamps will remain out for several months in Central and Leeward O'ahu.

It's the latest case of metal theft from public facilities: On Wednesday, city officials disclosed that thieves had taken $10,000 worth of brass flush valves from 28 park restrooms.

More than 50 lights are out along H-2's Mililani-bound lanes, from the H-1 interchange through Mililani. Another 50 are out on the H-1 in both directions between Makakilo and Kunia.

"We were trying to keep it quiet until now because we didn't want to encourage copycats. We were replacing the wire in hopes of catching these guys but it appears the same group of guys is coming back," said Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokesman. "Someone knows what they're doing and it is not only a waste of taxpayer money but someone is putting people's safety in jeopardy just to make a couple of bucks and that's the disgusting part."

Police are investigating.

"I hope the thieves realize they are jeopardizing public safety by their greed," said Honolulu Police Capt. Frank Fujii, department spokesman. "Seriously jeopardizing public safety."

A contractor started repairing the lights in September as part of regular maintenance but state officials began to notice the lights going out in November.

Thieves apparently dig up the wire in the daytime when no electric current is running. The wires are buried underground or mounted in plastic pipes lashed to the side of jersey barriers or beneath bridges.

Contractors replaced the copper wire along the H-2 Freeway twice but stopped after they realized the thieves were continuing to strike, according to DOT.

In the last three weeks, DOT employees working in the area have found that missing wire stolen from beneath the ground has shut down lights on the H-1 Freeway between Kunia and Makakilo.

The state has to put out to bid the contract to replace the wires and is awaiting the delivery of aluminum wires that are less expensive. The spools of copper wire that DOT buys to link streetlights cost roughly $3,000 a spool.

Fueling the thefts is the rising price for copper, which has gone up more than 170 percent in the last year, according to a report yesterday on MarketWatch.com. Copper retails for more than $3 per pound, the report said.

Copper futures climbed past $4 per pound Thursday, the highest price ever recorded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, according to the report.

Just this week, a Pennsylvania newspaper, The Daily Item, reported the theft of copper wire from a railroad signal, and in Waushara County, Wis., police are offering a reward for information about the thefts of copper wire from power poles, according to the MarketWatch.com report.

Ishikawa said it will take a "couple of months" to get the lights back on since the projects have to be put out to bid.

Transportation Department crews clearing out an area under the airport viaduct recently found spools of copper wire but there is no way to know if the wire was stolen from the freeway lights, he said.

"We don't know who is taking the wires, but who is buying the stuff from them?" Ishikawa wondered.

H-1, H-2 lights stripped of copper, leaving drivers in dark, taxpayers $100,000 in hole

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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