WILLCOX—There could be a new traffic pattern on the corner of Haskell Avenue and Maley Street coming next year that promises to at least temporarily alleviate traffic problems caused by turning commercial trucks.

During Thursday’s three-hour meeting, the Willcox City Council approved a motion of support to restripe Haskell at that corner, eliminating the left-turn lane, making it easier for freight trucks to turn without causing cars waiting in the turn lane to back up.

Drivers, then, would still be able to turn left, just from the regular traffic lane, and both the parking and no-parking zones would stay the same.

The plan also calls for different stop control, which means reprogramming the traffic light that is there now to four-way, flashing red lights.

Willcox City Manager Caleb Blaschke said it was actually the truck drivers who requested the city look into the problem. The city reached out to lawmakers, who in turn reached out to the Arizona Department of Transportation. They then hired a consultant to look into this specific problem.

A Transportation Advisory Committee was formed locally, made up of Willcox citizens, Chamber of Commerce members, business owners and the ADOT district engineer, among others. They came up with several options — some expensive and some not so expensive.

The preferred, and, incidentally, most expensive solution, calls for a bypass to be constructed so commercial traffic hauling freight will not even go through the Haskell-Maley intersection. Generally, freight trucks come from the southeast side of the city and travel to the northeast side, where drivers may access Interstate 10. This would cost the city, Blaschke estimates, $5 million to $6 million. Right now that is not an option, though it is not off the table.

Residents were asked for their input through a survey that went out in their utility bills. The committee received 182 responses, with the bypass solution being the most popular.

However, since ADOT intends to do some surface work on Haskell later next year, the restriping work on the interim preferred plan could be rolled into that project, so the city would get the traffic adjustment for a relatively small amount. No price was mentioned at the meeting.

The final consulting report will be out by the end of January, and because the council approved a motion of support, ADOT may now move forward with this plan in mind.

Also on the agenda:

The city council approved a motion to abandon the right of way around the southwest corner of Lewis Street and South Haskell Avenue, which will then be sold to Southwest Gas. The company plans to build a larger operations center there. Southwest Gas’ current facility is located near the post office and, according to Jeff Stoddard, director of the Willcox Public Services and Works, is cramped, has no room to store equipment and no room to train.

Right-of-way abandonment means a city gives up its interest in public roadways.

Currently, the land is empty, and there are no streets there. In addition, public roadways and alleyways adjacent to the Southwest Gas properties near Sagebrush Mobile Home Park have already been abandoned by the city.

However, a stipulation of this current abandonment is that Southwest Gas must own the surrounding properties and that Bisbee Avenue, Lewis Street and Root Street would remain city right-of-ways.

Dana Suorsa, owner of Source Coffee on Haskell Avenue and several rental properties, will fill a seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission. He will take the place of Commissioner Mark Brinton, who vacated the seat when he moved from the area. Suorsa is the only person who applied for the position.

Also, Commissioner Cheryl Moss’s term was extended for another six months until June 2022.

One term lasts four years.

Jeff Stoddard, director of Public Services and Works, presented a report on safety practices concerning gas lines within residences, businesses and schools.

Should the city spend more time and money getting property owners to clean up their dilapidated properties?

According to Blaschke, a couple of years ago the city council decided to give a grace period to Willcox property owners who have been cited for structures or lots that did not meet code. Blaschke said that as long as those owners were making some attempt to comply, the city was willing to work with them. That push met with some success.

Some owners made no attempt to comply.

During a recent tour of properties between Arizona and Haskell avenues, Blaschke found about 40 structures that were dilapidated or had junked vehicles, grass and weeds or trash on their property. Currently, the city is complaint-driven so it has not gone after these property owners, but the city can if the council deems it right to do so.

It was noted there are a lot of absentee property owners, and in Blaschke’s experience in Bakersfield, California, where he formerly worked, forcing them to clean up their properties brought low-income property values up.

Even if there are renters, ultimately it’s up to the property owners to comply, Blaschke said.

The council decided that Blaschke should go after the most extreme cases. That would include properties with excessive trash and junked vehicles, including vehicles on blocks even if they are registered. Code requires the vehicles must be able to be started. The city will deal with excessive grass and weeds at a later date.

There is some help from the city for owners if they unable to afford the fixes. In addition, there are USDA grants available for home owners aged 65 and older specifically designed to help keep them in their homes.

City Council gave the go-ahead to allocate the funds, more than $435,000, to build a new gas regulator station. The regulator is part of the system that brings natural gas into homes and is subject to stringent federal and state regulations. Staff is unable to find replacement parts and has to manufacture them since the current station was built prior to 1970, and is well past its life expectancy.

The council approved an intergovernmental agreement whereby the city of Willcox will employ the services of Cochise County for building plans reviews, building inspections and engineering services. Stoddard said there is not enough staff to do it, and he is unable to provide these services as he does not have the expertise to review commercial building plans nor to inspect them properly. The city will not be charged a retainer fee; the city is charged when services are employed. The builder will pay that charge.