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I-Team: Aging Light Poles A Safety Concern On Mass. Roads

BOSTON (CBS) - The I-Team has learned the state is trying to come up with millions of dollars to fix a growing problem that your drive underneath everyday: Aging light poles. Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve says the state is now trying to get many repaired or replaced before someone gets hurt.

They are grinding the rust off bolts and using ultra sound to test bolts that hold up massive light poles hanging over the Mass Pike.

Eric Laakso is an engineer hired by the state Transportation Department to check out the structural integrity of hundreds of light poles.

"We are testing to see if there are any deficiencies in the base, cracks or any other kind of deficiency," he says.

And on one day in western Massachusetts, they did find breakage and two poles on a major bridge on the Mass Pike had to be removed.

The cash strapped Transportation Department is trying to avoid them from collapsing. The I-Team obtained photos showing pieces of a 200 pound light pole which corroded, broke from its base, and fell across the southeast expressway in December 2009. Shocked state engineers then ordered the removal of three other poles as well.

Because of that incident, a few months later in 2010, the state began the daunting task of closely examining more than 4,000 poles, something that had never been done before.

Frank DePaola is the state highway administrator.

He says these inspections are new, "because prior to that were just focused on the state of the bridges in the commonwealth."

The I-Team has learned because of funding issues, 1,000 to 2,000 poles still have not been inspected. They are easy to spot. We found many examples on Route 128 on the North Shore. We found some with rusted bases that you can see right through. We found others with cracked and crumbling bases. Some poles are just missing from their bases and wires shoot everywhere.

The I-Team obtained copies of state inspection reports which clearly indicate the scope of the problem.

DePaola says, "Sign posts and light poles, I expect that we will have a large backlog of work that needs to be done."

Professor Tu Yang Wu teaches civil engineering at UMass-Lowell. He says fixing corroding metal on all types of transportation structures will drain government budgets.

He says, "They estimate fixing the corrosion problem in civil engineering is seven billion dollars for the country."

The I-Team found plenty of corrosion on Storrow Drive which is overseen by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. One older metal pole spotted by the I-Team actually appears to be tilting over the busy roadway. And the I-Team found crumbling cement poles. After the I-Team pointed them out, three poles were quickly replaced or removed.

Commissioner Ed Lambert maintains his agency has an effective ongoing inspection program.

"When it comes to public safety cost is not an issue," he says.

Shortsleeve: Some of these poles were really bad, how is it your inspectors missed them?

Lambert: "We really need to continue to find ways to improve our system, as with any public safety system we need to get folks out there more frequently."

Commissioner Lambert admits he is now reaching out to the state Transportation Department for help dealing with aging light poles on busy DCR roadways.

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