WILMINGTON — Several months after investigating the matter, North Carolina’s engineering board has ruled that American Traffic Solutions violated state law when it issued the engineering plans for Wilmington’s red-light cameras.
The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) issued the letter Thursday, Nov. 29, to American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS), a day after the board ruled on an investigation into whether Wilmington’s red-light cameras were properly certified by an engineer.
According to the letter (available in full at the end of this article):
“At its regular meeting on November 28, 2018, the Board concurred with the recommendation of the Review Committee, which was to place American Traffic Solutions, lnc. on notice that practicing, or offering to practice, engineering in North Carolina without being properly licensed with the Board, is a violation of G.S. 89C-23 and that practicing, or offering to practice, engineering and surveying in North Carolina, as defined in G.S. 89C-3(6) & (7), without being licensed with this Board is a violation of G.S. 89C-24 and 558.”
The ruling stems from an investigation that began over the summer into Wilmington’s red-light cameras.
The cameras, built by ATS in 2009 at 13 locations around the city, each have an engineering plan; of those, 12 list ATS as the engineer, and one lists Robert Zaitooni, who worked for the company from 2009 to 2014. NCBELS Executive Director Andrew Ritter confirmed in June that both ATS and Zaitooni are not – and never been – licensed to pratice engineering in the state of North Carolina.
Still, NCBELS had to investigate, depending on whether the red-light camera plans count as “engineering” or not. The argument may seem like semantics, but it means the difference between violating state law or not.
In June, both ATS and Wilmington Traffic Engineer Don Bennett denied there was any issue with the cameras. ATS said in a rare statement that the company was in full compliance with state law.
Bennett said that the red-light cameras did not require an engineer’s certification, only permission from the North Carolina Department of Transportation – but that’s not the case everywhere. In Raleigh, camera plans are certified. In Greensville, where red-light cameras were recently approved, the plans appeared to be certified but are redacted. Fayetteville declined to release plans for its cameras, claiming they were proprietary information.
The NCBELS ruling contradicts both ATS and Bennet’s statements.
Ironically, because ATS isn’t licensed, NCBELS has no authority over the company; in other words, ATS has no state license to strip, and NCBELS cannot issue fines. However, the board can and does take other actions in cases like these.
According to Ritter, NCBELS can pursue the “compliance” route, and allow ATS to rectify the situation. If ATS does not, the board can apply to the North Carolina Department of Justice for an injunction — a “cease and desist” that would presumably shut down Wilmington’s red-light cameras.
Although it is less common, NCBELS could also pursue criminal charges, which would technically be filed by the NCDOJ.
As for what must be done to bring the cameras into compliance, Ritter said, “that’s going to have to be between Wilmington and American Traffic Solutions.”
So what will happen?
The NCBELS decision is not a “final legal determination,” and ATS has the right to request a “declaratory ruling” – essentially an appeal to the board’s decision – before any court action is taken.
ATS Senior Vice President of Sales and Public Affairs, who issued a comment on behalf of the company in June, did not respond to an email, containing a copy of the NCBELS ruling. As such, it is not clear what the company’s next steps will be.
It’s worth noting that NCBELS ruled on a similar case in 2007, with Ritter issuing a similar violation letter to Redflex, an Australian-based red-light camera company. Redflex appears to have since subcontracted out its North Carolina business (the company was also embroiled in a costly lawsuit after the Chicago Tribune exposed a massive bribery scheme where Redflex paid Chicago city officials, including the city manager, for every camera installed.)
As for Wilmington, Bennett said he accepted NCBELS decision.
“If the Board reviewed the plans and have deemed that some aspects of the plans are engineering, then I would concur with them,” Bennett said.
According to Bennett, the city – which just renewed its contract with ATS – will be working with NCBELS and ATS to make sure the camera plans are made legitimate.
“We will work with the Board and with our Vendor to bring the plans into compliance by having them reviewed, revised if needed and sealed by an Engineer or Firm licensed to practice in the State of North Carolina,” Bennett said.
(Editor’s note: Stay tuned for a follow-up on the potential repurcussions of the state board’s ruling on Wilmington’s red-light cameras, including those who have already received tickets.)
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.