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LA freeway lights darkened by vandalism make for dangerous driving conditions

Thousands of broken lights create serious safety problems on LA's Freeways | KCAL Investigations
Thousands of broken lights create serious safety problems on LA's Freeways | KCAL Investigations 06:29

Some Los Angeles freeways are extra dark, even blacked out at night as Caltrans confirms 40% of the 34,000 freeway lights in the county don't work because of vandalism.

For a driver who doesn't know where they are going, or is unfamiliar with the route, trying to see along a dark road or reading unlit signs makes for dangerous driving conditions.

KCAL News investigative reporter David Goldstein found some of the thousands of lights and cameras on L.A.'s freeways that aren't working and discovered electrical boxes on the sides of freeways vandalized, ripped open, and mangled.

Electrical boxes along L.A. freeways are hard hit by vandals. KCAL News

Officials say thieves steal the copper wiring to sell as scrap metal. They also steal the fiber optic cables that control freeway message signs and Caltrans traffic cameras.

On any given day, Caltrans confirmed that 321 of the 551 freeway cameras in L.A. County don't work.

Despite the rampant vandalism, critics say Caltrans still isn't doing enough to fix lighting, to keep night driving safe. Thomas Leonard says he's been advocating for better freeway lighting for five years now. "It seems like the same lights that were out three years ago are still out," said Leonard.

Some freeway exit and entrance ramps are nearly unreadable at night without lights on them.

Leonard recalls one of his nightly commutes when a driver made drastic lane changes to exit the freeway. "He cuts across five lanes, nearly hitting me to make the I-10 exit. And you think because the sign was out, they couldn't see it? I think they weren't anticipating the exit to be so soon," said Leonard.

Terrence Gomes with the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council said they have fought for five years to get the lights on the exit and entrance ramps of the 10 Freeway at La Cienega repaired. He says Caltrans has claimed some things have been repaired when they really haven't. Gomes said they have requested Caltrans service records because they don't believe their account of repairs.

Caltrans responded that they see an increase in vandalism when the prices for precious metals are up, which they are now. The agency has started to install security doors with six inches of concrete on the freeway boxes – but it appears even those have been vandalized. They are also putting in fencing and steel doors at their communications hubs to hopefully stop the vandals.

In all, Caltrans reported 550 cases of wire vandalism in L.A. County this year, compared to just 165, 10 years ago. In Orange County, there are 149 wire vandal incidents this year compared to just six in 2013.

This repair work has cost taxpayers more than $24 million over the past five years in Los Angeles County. Sources say budgets for repairs have been scaled back, leaving residents and drivers frustrated. 

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