The rising price of copper could be behind recent thefts of wiring from light poles that have made night travel in the Spaghetti Bowl hazardous.
The Nevada Department of Transportation estimates it will take $140,000 in wiring and labor replacement costs to get lights activated for about 20 poles.
Prices for copper reached $7,034 per ton this week — the highest level since June 2018, according to agminer.com.
The price of copper is $3.22 per pound, up 51 percent from $2.13 per pound five years ago.
“Thieves are getting more sophisticated, including using grinders, other power equipment as well as reels or spools to steal the copper,” said Tony Illia, NDOT spokesman. “In my years (six) at NDOT I have not seen a theft this ambitious.”
Illia said Nevada has stringent laws regarding selling of copper wire, adding that he believes the price of copper and the scale of the thefts is making it financially viable to take stolen wire across state lines to pawn it elsewhere.
NDOT projects it will have the 20 poles back in operation by Nov. 24, Illia said.
An investigation into the thefts is ongoing, Illia said.
“The poles are pretty secure,” Illia said. “There is no easy access to them. Thieves are getting more sophisticated with the use of tools.”
Illia said the replacement has become a priority for NDOT because dark roads are a safety issue.
Other areas have been affected by the thefts.
The Project Neon area along Industrial Road, Western Road and Neon Gateway has been targeted by thieves, said Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke.
About 15 to 18 light structures have been vandalized, Radke said, adding the the Department of Public Safety is investigating.