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Good Question: What Are Those Blue Traffic Lights?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- You may have noticed new blue lights popping up near traffic signals all over the metro. They are small, generally tucked out of the way so they don't distract drivers. Over the past two weeks, they've been going up all over Ramsey County.

So, several WCCO viewers, like Melanie from Vadnais Heights, wrote to us wanting to know: What are the new, small blue lights on stoplights throughout the metro area?

According to Blaine Police Detective Joe Sadler, they allow officers to more safely enforce stoplight violations. The blue light, which can be seen from many more angles, is wired directly into the semaphore to turn on just as the traffic lights turn red.

"So when an officer who may not have a view of the red light itself can see the blue light turn, they know that any vehicle that enters the intersection after that point is in violation of the red light," Sadler said.

Without these lights, police departments need two officers to catch red-light runners – one to watch the red light and another to catch the offender on the other side of the light down the street.

"What the blue light allows us to do is sit in a downstream location like on the far side of the intersection, see the blue light turn on and know that the lights are red and they're behind that line," Sadler said. "Rather than crossing multiple lanes of traffic to stop them, we can pull out right behind them avoiding that, making it safer for us and public."

Burnsville has had these blue lights since 2009. Maplewood, Crystal and Bloomington have installed them as well. Within the past month, Blaine has installed blue lights at two of its intersections along Highway 65 with the most crashes. It's part of a year-long pilot project.

"There are no cameras involved in this," Sadler said. "These are enforced by us, by our observation, not by an observation made by any other device."

Over the next two weeks, Ramsey County will finish installing 128 lights at 49 intersections. It's all part of a $120,000 federal grant with $13,000 in matching local money. Ramsey County officials say they'll begin enforcement later this month once the light and signage installation is complete.

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