It's being called the biggest copper theft in the state's history.
Thieves made off with thousands of feet of copper wiring from right under the state Department of Transportation's nose.
It happened right below the H-3 Freeway on both the Halawa and Kaneohe sides of the Harano Tunnels.
Judging by the extent of what was stolen, the DOT says the thieves were working underneath the freeway for weeks.
Friday was an ordinary day on the H-3 Freeway. The lights were working and traffic was flowing.
But right underneath the deck of a viaduct is the scene of the largest copper heist the state DOT has ever seen.
"Our bridge inspectors went this week to inspect the bridge," DOT maintenance engineer George Abcede said. "When they went inside the box girders, they found a lot of the wire was taken."
So far, the DOT says more than six miles of the copper wiring network was stripped away.
The wiring provided lights and power to the inspectors so they could check the structural integrity of the freeway.
"This is the first time. We've never had people go into the box girders before. We inspected that area two years ago and everything was fine then, so it just happened very recently," Abcede said.
The Honolulu Police Department's criminal investigation team went down to check it out as well.
Inspectors say it doesn't look like a one-man job.
"It seems like someone who has done this before. There's tools in there," Abcede said.
In the meantime, the DOT will still be required to submit inspection reports by November to the Federal Highways Safety Transportation Administration. But this time, inspectors will have to check if the freeway is safe in the dark.
"We're going to have to use flashlights and bring some lanterns and things. It's going to make it a little harder because it shouldn't affect the motoring public in any way," Abcede said.
What does hurt the public is the price tag to repair and replace the copper wiring. That could be in the millions.
"It's our tax money, your tax money, mine. We have to replace that because we have federal requirements to fulfill and it's a lot of money that we didn't need to expend," Abcede said.
The copper wires were hot when they were stolen. Many are surprised the thieves made it out alive.
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