Residents dislike new city stop sign

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Local residents expressed their dislike for the new stop sign at Otero Avenue and Fifth Street during the regular Socorro City Council meeting June 17.

Brad Smith said he doesn’t like the new four-way stop at the intersection. He said it doesn’t belong there, it doesn’t serve any purpose and it disrupts the flow of traffic during busier times.

“It wastes time, it wastes fuel, it adds mechanical wear to vehicles,” Smith said. “That’s a bottleneck for that part of town, and emergency services have to pass through there — if there’s traffic stopped there, that slows them down.

“And what is the purpose of the stop sign? To solve a traffic problem on another intersection?”

Mayor Ravi Bhasker explained the city has a problem with traffic accidents at Sixth Street and Otero Avenue, and the stop signs are to mitigate that problem by slowing traffic down on Otero Avenue.

Jerome Lattery got up to complain about the four-way stop as well. He said the issue is at Sixth, where traffic is coming from Walmart, and he didn’t think a four-way stop at Fifth was useful.

Bhasker explained the city couldn’t put a four-way stop at the Sixth Street intersection because it would cause traffic to stack back to the California Street intersection and be a problem at that traffic light. He said one contributing factor to the accidents is the short duration of the green light at California and Otero, so people try to get a running start to get through the intersection. He said that causes many accidents at Sixth and Otero, and the city wants to slow traffic because of the many accidents on that stretch of road.

Bhasker said an excessive number of traffic accidents occur in Socorro for such a small town. People run stop signs and do not heed the posted speed limits.

Lattery said the situation reminds him of the movie “Casablanca” when the prefect of police told his men to “round up the usual suspects” every time something would happen.

“And I get the feeling we’ve got a little of that going on here,” Lattery said.

Judith Gorman, who brought up the question of a stop sign on the road during a council meeting a few months ago, asked if the city could time the traffic light at California and Otero to a longer duration if that was the problem. Bhasker explained the city can’t adjust the light because California Street is a state highway, and the state Highway Department is the agency in charge of traffic lights along that road.

Lattery agreed the light timing at California Street is the primary part of the problem, saying the green is very short and the red very long for traffic on Otero Avenue. Bhasker said the city will talk to the Highway Department again. He said the city has tried to get the department to adjust the timing of the light but hasn’t been successful.

Jay Santillanes, city utilities division director, said the lights along California Street are all tied to a system and are sychronized with each other, but that creates issues on the side streets.

Bhasker said the city will look at removing the new four-way stop, but if accidents decrease on Otero Avenue then the stop signs are a success.

Socorro Police Department Chief George Van Winkle said the city had three accidents at Sixth and Otero in a single month. He added many drivers speed along that stretch of road.

“I mean, I could put somebody there all day and they could probably write tickets all day,” Van Winkle said, adding an officer wrote 12 warning tickets in one hour for running the stop signs the first day the stop signs were in place.

Lattery said the city could put stop signs at every intersection in town, but it won’t help if people don’t drive safely.

Bhasker said the city wants to leave the signs in for at least a month to six weeks to see if they help alleviate traffic problems in the area. He stressed the city is not against removing the signs if they don’t help mitigate the problem of traffic accidents on Otero Avenue.

Smith said one problem is people don’t follow the law and they still drive like they are out in the country, even though Socorro is growing.

“And I’m seeing too many people going through stop signs like this,” Smith said. “It really affects me when I’m on a bicycle. I don’t like it at all.”

Smith suggested removing the four-way stop at Otero and Fifth and installing rumble strips, as well as bigger stop signs, on Sixth Street.

In other matters, the council:

  • Heard from Jessica Smith, director of the Socorro County Extension Office, who announced the first 4H rodeo in Socorro will be held July 6 and 7.
  • Approved an amendment to the engineering agreement with Dennis Engineering for the Highlands Pond community development block grant project. The amendment states the firm will redesign the A Street diversion dike to lower it and redesign the plan sheets. The amendment increases the contract amount from $37,265.25 to $39,265.25
  • Approved a landfill engineering agreement with Magee & Associates. Bhasker explained the city is transitioning away from building a landfill toward running a landfill, and the state Environment Department requires the city to keep a consultant on board for the lifetime of the landfill permit.
  • Heard from tourism department director Jennifer Gonzales, who mentioned the Socorro Independence Run is July 4. Those interested can sign up at www.newmexicosportsonline.com until July 1.
  • Heard from fire Chief Joe Gonzales, who mentioned Project HeartStart is Saturday at the New Mexico Fire Academy. Gonzales said classes will be held at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. and anyone can show up without registering for the class ahead of time.