Over the last few weeks, the calls and letters have started trickling in as the town moves ahead with its plans to continue developing West Street, and it seems that every conversation starts the same. “Do we want another Queen Street?”
It’s not a new cry. Residents voiced the same complaint back in 2013 when the town approved their plans for the West Street business zone. Nearby residents voiced their concerns about traffic and changes in regulations. Their first concern—echoed by town officials—is that West Street should never become another Queen Street.
They should hope to be so lucky.
We think that Queen Street gets a bad rap. Maybe it’s because traffic used to flow like molasses at every point of the day or night. Maybe it’s because shopping centers stood vacant and boarded up for years after Pratt & Whitney closed. Perhaps it’s because folks remember a simpler time before I-84 rumbled through town and Southington shifted from a farming town into a vibrant suburban community.
Queen Street has become the symbol of the negatives for this growth, and we think it’s time to find another symbol.
With our company’s location on Spring Street—nestled between Queen Street and West Street—we often have to make that choice when we pull out of our parking lot. Which way do we go? The best answer is usually…Queen Street.
Every town our size has to decide where its retail center will be. If you look at the towns in Connecticut with similar populations, every one of them would trade their retail center for Queen Street’s “problems.”
Traffic in Middletown comes to a crawl on Route 66, and it doesn’t get much faster on Main Street. Route 5 is a nightmare any time of the day in Wallingford or in Enfield. Route 2 gets snarled constantly in Norwich, and there is no other way through it or around it. Pick any road in Groton, and you’ll get choked in traffic or a winding maze. Queen Street would be a dream compared to any one of their roads.
The retail center is inevitable. The only way to avoid it is to accept a huge spike in property taxes. Even with worse traffic, most of the towns listed above have higher mill rates. All have bigger challenges and more vacancies than our Queen Street. Groton is the only town to have a much lower mill rate (20.95 in 2016), but that’s because of the huge amount of industry at the mouth of the river. It’s not a fair comparison.
We should be championing our success on Queen Street, not lamenting it. Most of the problems we had over the last few decades have been fixed or vastly improved. In fact, if you’re driving down Route 10 from Plainville, there’s a good chance that the first time you’ll get bogged down in traffic is when you leave Queen Street and the road turns into North Main Street. From there, it’s a constant battle with traffic lights and intersections through the center of town.
What is the big problem with Queen Street? Many parking lots connect, so going from one property to the next doesn’t always mean a return to street traffic (by the way, that was part of the town’s plan for West Street). Queen Street has sidewalks running down both sides (West Street should be so lucky). Traffic is smoother on Queen Street than West Street. Rush hour isn’t nearly as bad. We understand the sentiment behind the rally cry, but we think it’s time that people find another symbol.
We are more worried about Queen Street becoming another West Street than the other way around.