Thieves have left motorists traveling along a nearly one-third mile stretch of Interstate 29 in the dark, in the Council Bluffs area. According to the Omaha World-Herald, authorities and Iowa Department of Transportation officials are frustrated by the covert theft of copper wiring from circuit boxes and other access points along the interstate, where thieves yank out as much as 300-or more feet of wire, causing street lights to go dark. About a dozen streetlights aren’t working because of the thefts. And, Council Bluffs Police have reported a spike in thefts of copper wiring and tubing from construction sites and vacant homes over the past few months. In some cases, two-to three-cases of theft are reported per day.
Jim Bane, DOT district maintenance manager for southwest Iowa told the paper the thieves typically strip the wire on site, hiding in bushes or under a bridge, then haul the copper away, leaving the rubber coating behind in the grass. Since July 1, 25,000 feet of wire had been stolen from lighting systems along Interstates in the Council Bluffs area.
With the wire valued at about $3 per foot, the thefts cost Iowa taxpayers roughly $75,000 just to buy new wire. The Department of Transportation does not know when the lights will be working again on I-29 between 25th and 28th Streets. The I-29/I-480 interchange just east of downtown Omaha was in the dark for several weeks recently after someone stole wire there. Those lights are back on…at least for now.
Officials think a person or persons with skills in electronics are responsible for the thefts, because of the high amount of voltage that passes through the wiring at street light sites. A person unfamiliar with how to handle up to 400 volts of energy is likely to be electrocuted. Transportation officials have installed tamper-resistant circuit box covers and taken other steps in an effort to curb the copper thefts, but the thefts continue.
About 3,000 feet of wire was stolen along I-29 near Nebraska Avenue on Wednesday night, leaving some lights out at the interchange near the Ameristar Casino Hotel.