SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, Fla. – Thieves are stealing copper from street lights, and it's costing the Florida Department of Transportation hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"They're stealing copper wires that are being utilized to connect lighting on the highway or construction sites," said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Sanchez.
The thefts come at a high cost for drivers on the road.
"We have to repair the copper wire thefts that have taken place because if you don't, suddenly you don't have street lights," said Brian Rick from the Florida Department of Transportation.
In lieu of driving in the dark, those repairs are adding up. In Miami-Dade County, the costs have surpassed the budgeted annual amount, which is made up solely of taxpayer dollars.
"What we have spent, this year alone, has been $300,000 and we'll have to spend an additional $150,000 for a total of $450,000 to repair the damage that copper thieves cause," said Rick.
The thefts are happening at an alarming rate and most are along the corridor of I-95 between Northwest 62nd Street and S.R. 836.
Now, Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Transportation both need help spotting the thieves. Legitimate work crews block off traffic with orange cones and workers wear marked vests along with hard hats, professional equipment and marked vehicles that are visible to drivers. Thieves often break into manholes near light poles during the day when electricity is turned off and then set up a spot to return to at night when they can pull out plenty of copper wire in the darkness on the side of the road.
If you see lights out while driving or spot something suspicious, dial *347 or call 911.
Stealing copper is usually a third-degree felony that carries grand theft charges.