WSDOT Enhancing Efforts to Battle Copper Wire Theft

In a recent blog post, the Washington Department of Transportation detailed how it is ramping up efforts to combat copper wire theft statewide – especially since such thefts are now occurring on a daily basis.

[Above photo by WSDOT]

“Copper wiring plays an important role in our transportation system. It powers important items that help you get to where you need to be like digital signs, overhead lights, traffic cameras, signalized intersections and more,” the agency explained in its blog post – stressing that statewide wire theft costs for the 2021-2023 biennium has reached more than $850,000.

Copper theft also affects tolling operations, WSDOT noted; adding up to an annual revenue loss estimated at $440,000 and the repair cost at $96,000, which delays the agency’s ability to meet bond requirements.

[Editor’s note: In December 2022, Brad White – executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation – detailed similar fiscal loss numbers resulting from copper wire theft in the video interview below.]

“Wire theft has been and continues to be a problem for us. Our crews have seen an increase in wire theft in recent years which may be in part due to the increasing price of copper,” WSDOT said. “Not only is this theft costly to taxpayers, it also puts people at risk who have to make those repairs and the public loses critical infrastructure that helps traffic flow smoothly.”

To battle back against this uptick in copper wire theft, WSDOT said it is taking a number of actions.

“We continue to use stronger theft protection on our boxes – like welding junction box covers – [and], in some places, we are replacing copper with aluminum wiring, which is a much less lucrative find for thieves,” the agency noted.

“We’ve also changed how we light roads. In some cases, we replace traditional bulbs with LEDs [light emitting diodes]; in others, the entire light and pole is removed as research has shown light isn’t needed in all areas we illuminated in the past,” WSDOT said. “While not the motivation for removing unneeded lights, it does also decrease the amount of potential theft targets.”

In King, Snohomish, Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties alone, WSDOT has spent more than $310,000 on security upgrades directly related to copper theft and equipment damages, which includes repairing and installing fences, security lighting and monitoring equipment, and upgrades to protect cabinets against common intrusion methods.

Other state departments of transportation are also facing similar copper wire theft issues.

In September 2022, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet began collaborating with the Kentucky Department of Homeland Security to spread the word that copper wire theft endangers the public and puts motorists at risk. The high voltage current in these lines may also electrocute would-be thieves, the agency stressed.

“Stealing copper is not a victimless crime,” stressed KYTC Secretary Jim Gray at the time. “Taxpayers are left holding the bag to pay to replace the stolen wires and repair broken lighting systems. If you see suspicious activity or know of anyone involved in stealing state property, please report it.”

Related articles