By Betty Yu

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – Caltrans is blaming a group of metal thieves for flooding on Highway 87 during stormy weather Friday morning. The agency said thieves took copper wiring from a sump pump that was supposed to keep water off the road.

Authorities said it is the second time since December that wiring was stolen from the pump.

The runoff from Highway 87 finally flowed into the Guadalupe River Friday night. Hours earlier, copper thieves tore out valuable wiring that powers a pump station near downtown. With the pump not working, water had nowhere to go, causing traffic to be backed up for hours at the Taylor Street underpass.

“Anyone who was delayed or inconvenienced by the closure this morning on 87 was a victim of copper wire theft,” Caltrans spokesperson Robert Haus told KPIX 5.

On Friday night, Caltrans crews hooked up a generator to the pump. Officials said it is a temporary fix until they get new supplies.

This kind of crime has become a $50 million problem statewide for Caltrans.

“That’s $50 million that could have gone into filling potholes or doing other required maintenance, so it’s becoming more and more of a significant problem,” Haus said.

Caltrans said the cost of copper has jumped 350 percent over the last five years, with crooks making quick cash at scrap yards.

“There’s so much money in copper wiring right now the thieves are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get it,” Haus said.

Caltrans said it is partnering with the California Highway Patrol, local police and scrap metal businesses who may be buying stolen metal to crack down on thieves.

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