I just got off the phone with Kelly Stowe, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. I’m cooking up a story about the increasing trend in copper-wire theft.
She said the department is working with the Washington State Patrol to combat the problem and has set up a Web site and toll-free tip line to encourage drivers to call in suspected theft. In May, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill increasing penalties for stolen metal. The DOT also has increased surveillance of storage areas that contain metals.
Still, the trend is increasing in frequency.
"It’s getting worse," she said. "Lately, it’s been every week."
Stowe said the department’s maintenance budget is divided into costs for real-time operations (such as accident cleanup), preventative care and unexpected occurrences. The latter pays for wire replacement, and the costs are proving to be too much.
She said the department will pay for the crucial replacements like wire to power traffic lights, but other programs will suffer.
"That money’s got to come from somewhere, and it has to come from elsewhere in the maintenance budget," she said. "Preventative maintenance might not be done because of it."