City to replace theft-ruined Hwy 24 streetlights

       Dim stretches of Westside Highway 24 should be brightened by spring, according to City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager.

As a wintry evening descends on the Westside, nearly all the illumination on Highway 24 between about 14th Street and 8th Street (lights in background) is produced by vehicles. Most of the streetlights no longer work in this segment because of wire thefts at different times in recent years. A City Transportation project this spring is planned to replace poles as well as lights from Eighth Street to the western city limits.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “They're on my list,” she said in a recent interview, referring to more than 50 non-intersection streetlights (out of a total of 130) that have been out for many months along the roughly three miles between Eighth Street and the western city limits (just past Ridge Road). “I have set aside funding, and have city personnel to help Utilities with the work. I certainly hope to have it done in the first quarter.”
       The project became necessary because metal thieves, in pursuit of copper they can sell, have been persistently breaking into the bases of those light poles in recent years and ripping out the wiring.
       One particularly noticeable segment, between 8th and 14th streets, has only 4 working lights.
       The new project will do more than replace wiring. In the places where poles have been stripped, entirely new poles and fixtures will be installed.
       “Theft-deterrence” is the main intent, Krager said. Neither she nor Steve Berry of Colorado Springs Utilities wanted to reveal details, but she said one design change prevents thieves from “being able to collect wire for a long string of lights” (from one pole to another).
       Two years ago, the city had announced a similar method was being tried (with mixed results, including on Highway 24). However, this time the effort will involve “a new technique that was not used in the prior installation,” Krager said. “I don't want to discuss it because I don't want anybody figuring how to get at them [the wires]. But we're hoping it will keep people from breaking in.”
       The project will have one upside, according to Berry: The new light fixtures will be the more “energy-efficient” LED types.
       Even if the new theft deterrence proves successful, it appears unlikely that the metal/wire theft problem will be brought under complete control. Krager pointed out that such thefts have occurred on similar long roadway spans all over town. And, for every thief-attacked streetlight that has been upgraded in a preventive way - including several on South Eighth Street - many more of the older, more theft-susceptible types still remain.
       Utilities and the city each bears some of the repair/ replacement costs, although Berry said the city share is higher. For Utilities, the cost works out to about $1,000 a pole, he said.
       Meanwhile, thieves might not even get a hundred or so dollars worth of copper from each pole, depending on the prevailing rates at salvage yards.

Westbound motorists drive into the mostly dark segment between 8th and 14th streets. Overall, between Eighth and the western city limits, more than 50 of the 130 streetlights are currently out.
Westside Pioneer photo

       For City Transportation, Krager estimated that the costs related to wire theft have mounted over time to around $800,000. To cover such losses, the money is taken from the city's transportation budget or its share of maintenance funds from the Pikes Peak Rural Transpor-tation Authority (RTA), she said. The result is fewer funds for new projects. “People ought to start paying attention, because it's costing them a great deal of money,” Krager said.
       The Utilities website states that “copper theft could eventually drive electric rates higher due to the loss of inventory.”
       A common thief practice is to cut the copper into pieces before taking it to a salvage yard, to disguise its origins.
       A writer to the Westside Pioneer recently reported that in California a law requires a three-day payment delay at salvage yards, so as to discourage theft. But cracking down on metal thievery has not emerged as a priority in recent Colorado Legislature sessions; certainly, no Westside lawmakers have been known to introduce any bills in that regard.
       The metal thieves themselves are often described by law enforcement officials as methamphetamine addicts - so desperate to fund their next dose that they take the chance of committing what amounts to felony theft on public highways while thousands of cars drive by.
       “They're pretty sneaky,” Berry said. “They go out in the middle of the night, with fake contractor vehicles.”
       He and Krager urged people to report anyone acting suspiciously. One tip, offered by Berry, is that the only work trucks parked at a streetlight are ones with logos for Springs Utilities or its contractor, Hamlin Electric.
       Numbers to call are City Police at 444-7000 or Utilities at 448-4800.

Westside Pioneer article