Council passes ‘Don’t block the box’ traffic ordinance

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The town council unanimously passed an ordinance that will allow for Southington police to issue traffic infractions to drivers blocking business entranceways in certain high-traffic areas in town. In the “don’t block the box” ordinance, white boxes will be painted in the roadways, and a sign will indicate to drivers that they should not block the intersection.

Deputy chief William Palmieri explained that the state “allows for municipalities to create an ordinance that allows them to designate certain areas in town to stop vehicular traffic from blocking intersections.” The ordinance is specifically for town-owned roads. If a road intersects with a state road or leads into a state road, the town could make a recommendation to the state’s department of transportation, and the DOT would make a decision of whether to add a box or not.

The traffic infraction would ticket drivers with a $92 fee.

During a public hearing on the ordinance prior to the council’s vote, two residents shared their thoughts.

Pam DePaolo, a business owner in downtown Southington, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

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“Most intersections that can be blocked, are blocked, by inconsiderate drivers,” she said. “This ordinance would deter these drivers and create enforceable road laws. Our very busy roads are at their breaking point with thousands of vehicles everywhere.”

DePaolo said drivers “no longer out of common courtesy stop at the light ahead of them,” and added that town roads were not “built to handle all this traffic.”

Steve Kalkowski, a member of the Southington Police Commissioners, spoke in favor of the ordinance but criticized one point.

“I am very supportive of this proposed ordinance and believe we should support our business communities where we can and where it makes sense,” he said. “However, I am disappointed we are allowing Plan B to move in before installing a right turn lane on Spring Street. I believe this ordinance will further cause for delays for vehicles trying to get onto Queen Street turning right.”

He stated the ordinance will also add responsibilities to officers’ current workload and could also take officers away from more critical traffic stops.

Kalkowski, a former planning and zoning member, said the commission was clear that a right turn lane must be installed by the next applicant on Spring Street, which he said to be was Plan B. Town manager Mark Sciota, however, said it was a second lot on the BJ’s property that would have been responsible, not Plan B.

“The second pad on the BJ’s property would have been the triggering standpoint but the town can’t wait that long at this point. The pad isn’t being developed,” he said. “However we’ve been in negotiations with Plan B and they’ve given us all the easements to put the lane in there without any cost to the town.”

According to Sciota, Plan B is allowing for a right-turn lane to be installed going from Spring Street to Queen Street, and it will be done this spring.

After the unanimous passage of the ordinance, it will take 20 days for the new law to go into effect.

“We will do what we always do: start an educational campaign, then move to written warnings, then, if we have to go to enforcement with traffic infractions, we would,” said deputy chief Palmieri. “We deal with change of laws all the time. We will do what we can to work with the town. On day 21, our officers are not going to go out and start writing tickets immediately. It’s not good for the community, and it’s not how we do business.”

With the passage of the ordinance, the new law will go into effect Feb. 1.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at News@SouthingtonObserver.com.