City eyes ATV rules, fewer traffic lights

Brett Berntsen
The traffic light on North Allen Avenue is seen, Monday along West Main Street in Farmington. It is one of three lights the city of Farmington is considering eliminating to improve traffic flow.

FARMINGTON – At its work session on Tuesday, the City Council will consider regulations for off-highway vehicles driving on paved roads, as well as the removal of three traffic lights along Main Street.

The lights, located at the intersections of Locke, Allen and Court Avenues, are considered unnecessary based on national traffic control standards, Public Works Director David Sypher said.

If councilors approve the plan, workers will install stop signs at the cross streets and set the lights on Main to blink yellow for a 90-day test period. If traffic flows smoothly, Sypher said the signals will be removed permanently.

Too many traffic lights can create congestion, increase rear-end collisions and lead to aggressive behavior behind the wheel, according to official recommendations from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“That’s just a fancy way of saying they drive people crazy,” Sypher said.

Sypher said eliminating a single traffic light could save the city $11,376 a year in operation and maintenance cost. Removal won't amount to more than $2,000 per intersection, he said.

William Anderson, a delivery driver at All Paint Supply Co, located on the corner of Locke Avenue and Main Street, said he would like to encounter fewer stops downtown.

The traffic light at the intersection of West Main Street and and North Locke Avenue is pictured Monday in Farmington. It is one of three downtown lights the City Council is eliminating to improve traffic flow.

“I drive here every morning,” Anderson said. “The less lights the better.”

In two years of working at the paint store, he said he’s never seen an accident at the intersection.

The proposal coincides with a larger plan to redevelop Farmington’s downtown area.

Sypher said that during brainstorming sessions with experts, the three intersections were singled-out as areas for improvement

Some of the suggestions came from Dan Burden, a transportation engineer of national renown who visited Farmington in May, 2015.

Burden said improving traffic flow will draw people downtown and help local businesses.

"They might take the route, and then remember they need a new pair of shoes or something,” he said.

In other action, the council will discuss an ordinance establishing rules for off-road vehicles on city streets.

New Mexico recently amended a state law to allow off-highway vehicles on paved roads. The changes take effect on May 23, and the city has been pressed to set ground rules beforehand.

The ordinance would establish a maximum 35 mph speed limit for all-terrain vehicles like four-wheelers, and a 45 mph maximum speed limit for larger machines such as side-by-sides. On streets with speed limits that exceed the maximums, drivers will be confined to the extreme right-hand side of the roadway.

The ordinance also mandates vehicles have headlights, taillights, turn signals, side mirrors and horns. Drivers will need to be licensed and insured as well.

City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said she drafted the ordinance based on regulations in surrounding states with similar laws. She said she mostly pulled from Utah, which has developed a large off-road tourism industry.

Supporters of the new law wish to develop a similar trade in Farmington.

“We probably won’t be quite as popular as Moab,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Neville, R-Aztec. “But we’re hoping to make this an attraction for us.”

Councilors on Tuesday will have the option to modify the ordinance, or approve it as written. The rules will then go to a vote at the April 26, city council meeting and could be adopted on May 10.

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.