Rash of grate, manhole cover thefts in metro Atlanta

About 645 grates and 20 manhole covers have been removed and taken in and around the city, GDOT spokesman Mark McKinnon said.

It will cost more than $500,000 to replace them, McKinnon said. That money will come from the DOT’s already stretched budget. And, as McKinnon points out, it’s taxpayer dollars that are being spent.

“This is just more money going out the door that shouldn’t be because of theft,” McKinnon said. “Other things may certainly suffer if we can’t get these stopped.”

The thefts started as early as last spring, McKinnon said. GDOT has its own investigators, but because the stolen grates and manhole covers are scattered around the metro area, it’s been hard to find and catch the perpetrators, McKinnon said.

Grates and manhole covers have been removed from I-285 on the north and south sides, along U.S. 78 into Gwinnett County and other places, he said.

Investigators say the culprits are recycling the materials -- but they may only be receiving $9 or $10 for each grate or manhole cover, McKinnon said.

And they aren’t doing the recycling here. McKinnon said investigators have checked in with scrap yards and recycling centers and have come up dry.

“People are risking jail time for $9 or $10 and an awful lot of work,” he said.

The grates and manhole covers weigh about 150 pounds, McKinnon said. He pointed out how dangerous it is for someone to stop alongside the highway to remove one -- as well as how doing so leaves the road unsafe for motorists who have to pull over for some reason.

The GDOT is urging motorists to call 511 if they see anything unusual, such as a non-GDOT car parked by a grate.

“We really need to catch who’s doing this,” McKinnon said.

In the meantime, the GDOT is spot-welding down the grates and manhole covers that are being replaced. The agency is marking the uncovered holes with cones, and some local police are doing the same with yellow tape, he said.

The grates are expensive because they vary in size: a larger one can cost up to $450, McKinnon said. And that’s just the price of the grate. Should the frame be damaged, that adds to the cost.

Budges woes have already caused the GDOT to cut back on things such as litter pickup. While McKinnon said it’s unclear whether any particular projects would be delayed to pay for the cost of replacing the grates and manhole covers, it’s clear that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“The fact that we have to ship money from somewhere else to cover this expense, which is totally unnecessary, is a shame,” he said.