NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Thieves looking to swipe scrap metal are now targeting items found along interstates and highways.
"It could've been finished earlier if we hadn't had critical things stolen," said Earl Capps, who works for U.S. Group, Inc. and oversees road construction projects.
Capps says scrap metal thieves delayed the roadwork on I-26.
"They'll come in on a weekend and clean you out," Capps said.
Thieves are taking guard rails, road signs and the beams that hold them in place, as well as metal plates that cover holes in the roads. And that's where it gets dangerous.
Capps said at a construction site in Moncks Corner, thieves tried taking one of those metal plates and nearly caused a major accident.
"Somebody could've gone into an open hole and go head first into a concrete pipe," Capps said.
The thefts are also financially costly. Capps said during the I-26 project, someone stole $10,000 worth of metal and steel.
And it's becoming a problem across the state.
The DOT said more than 100 storm drain grates have been stolen along I-85 in Anderson County and US 276 in Greenville County, which officials say is an unnecessary cost to taxpayers.
Capps said it's possible the stolen items are then taken to recycling centers, and said the problem shows no signs of slowing down. He said potential thieves are always casing the construction sites.
"I'll see people just walking through the parking lot. They're rather brazen about it," Capps said.
Gov. Nikki Haley signed a copper theft prevention bill into law that puts new requirements on anyone who wants to sell not just copper, but some other metals, to a recycler.