Stolen road grates a growing problem

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Considering metro Atlanta’s big transportation issues, a stolen road grate seems like a minor nuisance — until you drive into the hole created by one’s disappearance, or more of your tax money goes to replace them. Today, the Georgia Department of Transportation writes about the escalating problem of thieves uprooting roadway grates and selling them as scrap metal. A statewide recyclers’ trade group responds.

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Storm grate thefts cost us all

By Brent Story

The recent proliferation of storm grate thefts in metro Atlanta brings attention to what is a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. This is not limited to the Atlanta area; it’s a rampant statewide pattern of thefts.

Thousands of grates have been stolen over the past year, taxing Georgia Department of Transportation resources. The replacement cost for each grate exceeds $650, and more than 600 have been stolen just in the Atlanta area since January. Replacing missing grates requires extensive time from our maintenance staff and delays other needed work such as pavement repair, sign replacement and debris removal.

Criminal investigators with the department have worked side by side with local law enforcement agencies to catch the drain thieves in action or when selling the metal. Despite many hours put into investigations, following leads and interviewing potential witnesses, no grate theft suspects have been apprehended so far. We continue to work with law enforcement on these thefts, and hope the perpetrators will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

In 2010, our standard policy was revised to include a secure chain attachment on all new grate installations, as well as the stamping of the Georgia DOT logo into the grate frame. These practices have been beneficial, and thefts of grates installed under the 2010 policy are few and far between. However, there are tens of thousands of grates along our transportation system that were installed prior to 2010, and no anti-theft precautions were part of the prior installation policy.

A retrofit of existing grates is underway at a potential cost of thousands of taxpayer dollars — funds that could and should be spent on much-needed transportation projects. The expense of retrofitting an individual grate is $150, requires a team to complete and, when multiplied by the thousands of grates across our highways, causes a substantial impact to the department’s maintenance budgets.

Grate theft also creates a significant hazard along the roadways. The opening that’s left is a serious danger to motorists, pedestrians, emergency response workers and the GDOT crew that must be on the road to replace them.

Storm grates and the drains they cover are a vital part of our road design, the primary means of clearing water from pavement surfaces. Without proper grates, the drainage pipes below are subject to filling with large debris, creating clogs. Additionally, the temporary covers that must be installed to close gaping holes hinder proper water drainage during storms, which can contribute to flash flooding along roadways.

Criminals and thieves may get a quick dollar for the storm grates, but remember, they are not just stealing from GDOT; they are stealing from you, your family and your friends and neighbors, and putting all our lives at risk. Please report anyone, or any company, stealing our roadway grates. The life you save may be yours.

Brent Story is state design policy engineer at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Recyclers work with authorities

By Rick Caldwell

The Georgia Recyclers Association (GRA) is actively involved in the education of recyclers, law enforcement and other stakeholders about metals theft and has worked proactively for years to such thefts to a minimum in Georgia.

The GRA and its more-than 100 member firms have established working relationships with law enforcement and prosecutors that have been instrumental in the arrests and prosecutions of metal thieves.

We recognize that the theft of highway storm grates continues to be a costly problem for the Georgia Department of Transportation as well as to city and county governments. In addition to the replacement expense to Georgia taxpayers, the theft of grates creates a hazard to motorists and pedestrians.

GRA members and their employees are trained to be on the lookout for items such as storm grates and other items, and encourage that proper documentation be provided when purchasing these items from sellers other than government entities.

We also have been active in theft prevention. Among the best prevention practices are to encourage property owners to “mark their metals” with identifying marks that discourage theft, and to assist prosecutors to positively identifystolen metal. The GRA commends GDOT in its efforts to mark storm grates and other metal property with the agency’s name, and also installing these in a manner that makes theft much more difficult.

We are committed to working with GDOT and other property owners to educate our members about these items, and what markings to be alert for.

In addition to Georgia Recyclers, other entities are involved in the fight against metal theft. The Southeast Metal Theft Task Force ( and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries ( offer web-based alerts that are emailed to law enforcement and recyclers upon the theft of metal. These alerts have been very effective getting timely information out about thefts and have led to numerous arrests and prosecutions.

Georgia has numerous aggressive laws on the books concerning the purchase of regulated metal properties, including major changes made in 2009 and 2012. Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement and positive working relationships with Georgia recyclers, these laws have successfully helped reduce metal theft crimes.

The GRA is proud of the positive working relationships cultivated over the years between law enforcement and the recycling industry in Georgia. We are committed to this relationship and look forward to continuing this work through cooperative efforts and ongoing training opportunities. The GRA also will continue to advocate for the enforcement of existing laws and for harsh penalties for criminals who cause this expensive and dangerous situation.

Rick Caldwell is president of the Georgia Recyclers Association.

7 comments Add your comment


July 3rd, 2013
1:43 pm

I have never heard of this!


July 3rd, 2013
10:12 am

“…and more than 600 have been stolen just in the Atlanta area since January.”

In such a populous area with so much road traffic it is impossible to believe that at least some of those thefts haven’t been witnessed by passersby. If I see someone who is obviously not the DOT carrying off a road grate I’m calling the cops in a heartbeat, but maybe that’s just me.

Jack ®

July 3rd, 2013
6:01 am

The theft of road grates is another example of our needing more jails and more police. Over crowding of our jails gives judges another reason to release criminals back into a law-abiding society.


July 2nd, 2013
3:37 pm

The recyclers are part and party to the problem. They don’t care about the law…they want MONEY and will accept and recycle ANYTHING from ANYWHERE to get it. Prosecute the metal buyers and businesses: THEY ARE THE PROBLEM.

Allow the Free Market

July 2nd, 2013
3:12 pm

K-Ster – We currently have a very efficient metal recycling industry in this country SPECIFICALLY because the government has little to no involvement. Government is a failure at everything it does. We do not need this sector of the economy destroyed too. Knowingly acquiring and purchasing stolen property is a crime and I am sure that recycling centers do not wish to be in that business. They are hurt financially with higher taxes, etc. by the theft of these items as well. Vigorous communication, utilizing digital photography, etc. to broadcast information regarding likely targets of theft could go a long way to addressing this problem. At the heart of the matter however is the fact that government ultimately steals every penny it has to spend. As such, their sense of “ownership” is disconnected from these metal grates, etc. A private business would move quickly to address the theft problem through creative approaches that would ultimately reduce their losses. So long as government continues to hold the monopoly on water, sewer, roads, and other infrastructure elements, they seriously need to boost their efforts at reducing the theft of taxpayer funded/owned property.


July 2nd, 2013
10:33 am

Some states have ABC stores where the state runs the liquor sales. Why not do the same with recycling? Bring all recycling centers under state control where enforcement and POLICY could help monitor/control the reuse of various substances that a) can create harm to health/safety; b) can encourage theft.


July 1st, 2013
4:50 pm

Obviously the recyclers need to do a better job of filtering some of this stuff out. I’ve worked with manufactures that recycled a lot of material and our recyclers were very conscientious, but I suspect a lot of stuff is still “slipping through” at some places. The focus needs to be on recycling centers to assure they are following ethical business practices. At the end of the day it’s hard to stop two guys with a truck, but eliminating the market should reduce these problems.