Traffic lights planned for Red Lodge

Alastair Baker
News Editor
Thursday, April 1, 2021
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Rendition courtesy of MDOTL
An artist's rendition of Broadway, Red Lodge, with the proposed traffic lights.

A massive statewide project to install traffic lights in smaller communities is kicking off in Red Lodge. 

The multi-million dollar project will occur in Montana communities under 4,000 in population and is being spearheaded by the Montana Department of Traffic Lights (MDOTL). It will begin in Red Lodge next summer. 

“The majority of the lights will be placed on Broadway,” said Don Punainen, MDOTL District Administrator.

“This is a project that needs to be fulfilled for safety issues as the State sees more and more tourists and vehicles arriving daily,” he said.   

The Red Lodge project is expected to cost $2 million for the proposed 20 traffic control devices. 

Punainen said there will be two public meetings held in every community to discuss the project.

“I know people will object to the installations at first but after a while they will become part of everyday life, like elsewhere,” said Carol Berstein, Assistant District Administrator with MDOTL.

“It has to be done, especially in bigger communities like Red Lodge. We’ve heard many complaints down the years about summer in Red Lodge with increased jay-walking and about drivers not being able to make a turn on to Broadway and then having to use the back streets to make their way to their destination,” she said. “This in turn makes those off Broadway areas just as dangerous and some of these streets have been earmarked for stoplights such as the High Bug area and around the schools.”

MDOTL Engineer Wayne Roheline is confident the project can be completed without too much disruption during July and August 2022. 

“We’ll be working mainly at night to avoid clashing with the tourist trade,” he said.  

Mayor Bill Larson is enthusiastic about the project, believing it will help tourism.

“The traffic lights will slow traffic and make visitors stop and shop, increasing business for our community,” he said. 

James Caniglia, Community Development Officer, sees an opportunity to give the youth in town something to do.

“When I was growing up, one of our most fun activities was drag racing when a light turned green. I feel bad that kids in Red Lodge can't do that,” he said.  

“I also think the lights will provide for safer animal crossings instead of them using the crosswalks all the time,” he added.

Punainen believes tourists from bigger cities won’t feel so far from home when they see traffic lights and are 75 percent more likely to return to a town with traffic lights again and again. 

For Caniglia, the lights will bring some “reality.”

“When I'm driving south and looking at MT Maurice or RL Mountain, I get annoyed that I'm not in the mountains. I think seeing stoplights blocking the view of the mountains will give people a sense of reality, that they are in a city, have to work and can't always be in the mountains,” said Caniglia.

One side benefit the City hopes to embrace is offering stop light sponsorships and giving organizations an opportunity to drape banners from them promoting events.

“It’s sort of fitting that Red Lodge, given its name, is the first town on the list. Who knows in time it could be known also as Amber Lodge or Green Lodge. People can have fun with it,” said April Foos, PR Consultant with MDOTL.