Copper wire is found in boxes at the base of light poles and on highway barriers, which make attractive targets for thieves. Some dress in fake safety gear to make them look like utility workers. Many thieves are drug addicts looking for cash; they take the copper to scrap recycling yards, where copper can net more than $2 a pound, Bergal reports. Some states have enacted laws that require scrapyards to document the name and license plate of would-be copper sellers, and some have increased penalties for stealing metal.
The state highway department in Missouri has paid $850,000 on light repairs because of copper theft, as much as it spent in 2016 and 2017 combined. But the expense is only one part of the problem. Lack of lighting (until the state can repair the light poles) makes driving more dangerous for motorists. "Roadway lighting can reduce night-time crashes by about 35 percent, according to a Federal Highway Administration study," Bergal reports.