It’s either a left-handed compliment or maybe a kick in the teeth — all depending on how you look at it.
But no sooner had the Payson council ousted Tom Loeffler from chairmanship of the Traffic Advisory Board than that same board adopted his ambitious agenda, including changes in the most dangerous intersection in town, study of speed limits on town streets, the creation of faster-moving alternatives to the highways and study of the possible impact on local businesses of a highway bypass.
The council, which refused to reappoint Loeffler at its last meeting, will consider the new TAB’s priority list at its Thursday meeting. The list echoes Loeffler’s priorities, which should come as no surprise since no less than three members of the traffic board had offered to resign if the council would reappoint Loeffler.
Loeffler, who spent 22 years as a top highway official in Wisconsin before retiring to Payson, had initially said he didn’t want to serve a second term, but then took back his resignation the next day at the urging of other traffic board members. However, Vice Mayor Mike Vogel said Loeffler couldn’t change his mind and instead appointed Gordon Metcalf, a recommendation the council approved on a 6-1 vote.
At last week’s TAB meeting, Metcalf replaced Loeffler. The traffic board then adopted a prioritized list, which it forwarded to the council for approval.
The traffic board’s top priorities for future study and recommendation to the town council include:
• Revamp Highway 260/Granite Dells Intersection: The entrance on the highway at the edge of the Safeway parking lot generates more accidents than any other corner in town. The changes would likely limit the ability of people to turn into or out of the Safeway parking lot from Granite Dells.
• Circulation study: The committee would make recommendations for road closures, signage and additions in hopes of moving traffic smoothly through town for residents trying to stay off of the congested highway.
• Speed study: The board would study speed limits on streets throughout town in an attempt to adjust speed limits to react to a high volume of complaints from the neighborhoods. That speed study would also look at actually increasing speeds on some arterial streets, hoping to draw traffic off neighborhood streets with lower speed limits.
• Bypass impact: The board wants to undertake studies to estimate the potential impact on Payson businesses in the event the state ever builds a highway bypass south of town. Many businesses fear a bypass would prove disastrous. Others argue that as long as the bypass route wasn’t lined with restaurants and gas stations, people who actually needed services would still continue into town. The study would examine the experiences of other bypassed communities.
• Sidewalk study: The study would consider which streets in town need sidewalks and make a list of existing sidewalks that pose safety problems.
• Repair priorities: The study would update the traffic board’s existing priority list for major street repairs and additions.
The priority list for repairs and new streets has fallen on hard times in the last two years, mostly because the town’s shrinking sales tax and building permit revenue prompted the town council to cancel almost all capital improvements — including even formerly routine street maintenance. Coupled with the lack of new development for the past two years, the town has made virtually no street improvements.
Most of the items on the traffic board’s list were originally proposed and pushed by Loeffler, with strong support from the rest of the board members.
Loeffler, who also serves on the Gila Community College Board, also sometimes struggled with the council to defend the independence of the traffic board. That often took the form of a struggle over the group’s name, when the new council tried to clarify the difference between a board and a commission. Under the new definition, commissions operate more independently to deal with certain issues. By contrast, a “board” was supposed to meet only as necessary to come up with answers to specific problems delegated to it by the council.
The distinction baffled most traffic board members, since they met on a schedule similar to all of the commissions to address a specific area of concern.
Loeffler tried to convince the council to make the traffic board a commission, with more control over its own agenda in addition to addressing any questions delegated by the council.
Several traffic board members appealed to individual council members to overrule Vogel’s recommendation and return Loeffler to the traffic board.
Board member Jim Hippel even came to the last council meeting and offered to resign his seat if the council would promise to reappoint Loeffler.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans ruled that offer out of order since it hadn’t been listed on the agenda.
Councilman Ed Blair protested the decision not to reappoint Loeffler and vowed to seek a change in the council’s system for making appointments. Currently, the vice mayor recruits and reviews applications for the various town commissions and recommends appointments to the whole council, which can then accept or reject that recommendation. Blair said he favors a system in which the council interviews and appoints commission and board members.
Blair said he sought an opinion from the town attorney on Hippel’s offer to resign his seat in favor of Loeffler, but was told that the council couldn’t make such a promise as a condition of a resignation.