Bismarck is looking to deter red light runners in 2018 with the installation of law enforcement confirmation lights at 107 intersections.
“When the light turns red, that confirmation light will be illuminated, allowing officers to see lights from the side,” said Bismarck Police Lt. Jeff Solemsaas, who is in charge of the traffic division.
The auxiliary lights are connected to traffic control signals with the aim of helping law enforcement officers identify drivers who violate red lights.
“A primary goal of this project is ... Bismarck police will be able to enforce red light running more effectively,” said Gabe Schell, city engineer. “This would hopefully reduce the number or red light violators and improve safety at these intersections.”
The city commission approved the project on Sept. 26, entering into two agreements with the North Dakota Department of Transportation — one agreement each for the signalized intersections on the Urban Roads System and the Primary and Secondary Regional Highway Systems.
The lights will be omnidirectional and mounted on top of the pole near the signal head. Some intersections may have as many as eight confirmation lights, as protected left turns will have their own confirmation light, located on the underside of the traffic-signal pole.
In North Dakota, in order to issue a ticket for running a red light, officers must prove the vehicle did not enter the intersection before the light turned red.
“There is about a three- to four-second delay where the lights will be red all four directions. In order to issue a ticket, the light has to turn red before the vehicle enters that intersection,” Solemsaas said, noting the intersection begins at about the pedestrian crosswalk line.
The fine for running a red light in Bismarck is $20.
“In my personal opinion, $20 is a not a deterrent to running red lights,” Solemsaas said.
In 2017, Bismarck police issued 297 citations for red light violations through mid-November, Solemsaas said. There were no red light fatalities in 2017.
Confirmation lights are not red light cameras, which are forbidden in North Dakota by the Legislature.
“In North Dakota, we need to identify the driver of the vehicle in order to issue a ticket,” Solemsaas said. “In other states, people are getting tickets even though they are not driving the car.”
Installation of the lights is slated to begin in the spring, once the weather allows, with a tentative completion date of Oct. 13.
On Tuesday, the city commission awarded the project to Strata Corp., of Grand Forks, whose bid was the lowest at $478,355. The company will install 498 confirmation lights, at a cost of $450 per unit.
In addition, existing pedestrian signal heads will be replaced in numerous intersections with countdown pedestrian signal heads, which flash numbers that count down the number of seconds remaining until the "don't walk" hand is displayed.
The city’s share of the project is estimated at $49,000, which will be funded by sales tax dollars.
The combination of confirmation lights and enforcement efforts has been shown to reduce the number of red light violators, as well as increase the efficiency of enforcing red lights, city officials said.
“I think confirmation lights are going to make enforcement a lot easier. If people are aware of them, maybe they won’t run red lights as much,” Solemsaas said. “We’re going to step up our enforcements, because it will be easier.”