DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The Michigan Department of Transportation says one-fifth of the lights along freeways in Metro Detroit aren’t working — and copper thieves are mainly to blame.

MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said roughly 20 percent of the lights on poles and beneath overpasses on freeways in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties are dark.

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“We are responsible for about 5,500 light poles and also about 5,000 individual lights that are installed beneath overpasses,” Morosi told The Detroit News. “Right now we’re estimating 1,100 outages to those poles for a number of reasons.”

The main reason for many of the outages, according to Morosi, is copper thieves — who are stripping metal from the transformer cabinets.

“It’s not like the copper thieves are running out onto the freeway and stealing copper from the poles to sell at scrap yards,” Morosi said. “Instead they are attacking the transformer cabinets, many of which are actually located on the service drives.”

MDOT has identified the area around I-94, east of I-75, as one of the worst hit by thieves.

“We are taking measures to try to keep the cabinets safe and secure, but for every move we make, the thieves come up with a counter-move,” said Morosi.

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And those counter-moves are sometimes deadly. In October, a 34-year-old man was electrocuted at Putnam and Lawton, near I-96, while attempting to steal copper wire from a transformer. Police said the man was attempting to remove the copper from inside the pole when he was electrocuted by a live wire, causing him to fall off his ladder and be left hanging. A DTE crew cut power to the pole and used a cherry picker to bring down the man’s body.

MDOT says they only effective measure in the lighting battle has been the community, which has been extremely helpful about calling in suspicious behavior that could be potential wire theft. MDOT urges residents who see any suspicious behavior around street or freeway lighting to call the police.

MDOT has also removed about 200 poles because they’ve been weakened by years of abuse from crashes, harsh weather and road salt, and there’s a lack of money for replacements.

“We removed the poles to keep the driving public safe,” Morosi said. “We intend to replace those poles, but there’s no timetable because we just don’t have the funds right now.”

The freeway isn’t the only area in Detroit where there’s a lack of light. About half of the city’s roughly 88,000 street lamps are in disrepair.

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