It's not your imagination: There are quite a few lights out on Metro area freeways.
According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, about 20 percent of the approximately 5,500 lights along freeways in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair counties are dark.
The culprits behind the blackouts are an aging infrastructure, copper thieves and a lack of funds for replacements.
"We are responsible for about 5,500 light poles and also about 5,000 individual lights that are installed beneath overpasses," MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi said. "Right now we're estimating 1,100 outages to those poles for a number of reasons. First, we have removed at least 200 poles due to structural deficiencies that could cause safety issues."
According to Morosi, the poles were weakened by rust from decades of road salt, high winds, damaged barrier walls or crashes.
"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."A major reason that so many lights are out is because of thieves.
"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.
"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 countermove."
MDOT has even written about the problem of copper thieves on its website (michigan.gov/mdot), identifying the area around Interstate 94, east of I-75, as one of the worst hit by thieves.
"This is a crime that not only costs money, it's also costing lives," said Megan Sears, MDOT metro region communications assistant. "In October, a man was electrocuted at Putnam and Lawton streets, near I-96, while attempting to steal copper wire from a transformer. This is just one case out of many that happen every week in the city."
Morosi said MDOT electricians are working constantly on the lighting problem, trying to determine if the darkened lights are due to thefts or a worn-out infrastructure.
Morosi said the main problem with lights beneath overpasses (such as the extensive pedestrian overpasses on Interstate 696 in Oak Park) is the perception of the public.
"Some drivers question why all the lights in the underpasses are on during the daytime, but are mostly off at night," Morosi said.
"They think it should be just the opposite. But we are trying to closely match the lighting conditions outside on the freeway.
"If it's a bright sunny day, we don't want drivers to enter a long, dark underpass and then suddenly come back out into blinding sunlight."
The situation is reversed at night: Motorists driving at night will enter a somewhat darkened underpass rather than hit a long stretch of blinding lights.
"It minimizes the time drivers need to readjust their eyesight," Morosi said.
From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/2013 ... z2Kxsi5VfI