There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of casino developments in general, but the traffic issue for a downtown casino isn’t one of them.
I attended last night’s gala opening of the Springfield Symphony’s seventieth season which meant I was unable to attend the Springfield Falcon’s first home game of the season at the MassMutual Center. There were a few empty seats but not many at Symphony Hall so I would estimate that around 2,000 people were in attendance for the 7:30 concert, and the Falcons had over 5,500 people in the arena for the drop of the puck at 7:05. That makes for over 7,500 people streaming into the downtown within a very narrow window of time.
My wife and I made our way, walking, down to Court Square just before 7 p.m. and the streets were buzzing with cars and the sidewalks with people. Like a city should be I would say. There didn’t seem to be any delays on any of the streets or at any of the intersections for motor vehicles passing through. I’ve actually seen this scenario play out dozens of times: a concert at Symphony Hall, a game at the MassMutual Center even with the addition of a play at CityStage and something going on at the Paramount as well, not to mention the estimated 10,000 people a night who visit Worthington Street on a Saturday night…and no traffic tie-ups, no gridlock, just a modern American city’s streets accommodating American people motoring to their various destinations on a weekend evening. The truth is even these numbers don’t compare to the traffic the city handles every weekday morning and afternoon as many thousand more workers drive into then out of the downtown.
The idea that the potential for as many as 10,000 more visitors a day, spread out over the hours and hours and hours that gamblers and others will arrive to visit a new casino complex downtown, whose games and shops don’t require the participants to arrive at a time certain, would cause traffic issues is idiotic. I could see the few opening weekend nights being chaotic, but that is hardly a good reason to question that location. As a matter of fact the downtown road system is, not surprisingly, perfect for handling just the type of traffic flows a new development downtown would bring. These roads were built to accommodate thousands of people accessing hundreds of destinations every day of the week. Interstate 91 and Interstate 291 provide the main points of access to the downtown, but there are a dozen or more other roads which also provide access from the north, south, east and west. Over 150,000 people live here, and tens of thousands more work here.
The other option for a casino in western Massachusetts is Palmer. Palmer is a community of under 13,000 people. Unlike the grid of streets developed over centuries in downtown Springfield, the location in Palmer where Mohegan Sun wants to put a billion dollar development designed to attract up to 10,000 people a day is set on a real choke point. There is one exit off the interstate from the east and the west, and one state road which both the east and west exits give access to. There is no grid system whatsoever along which traffic could be dispersed and while, just as in Springfield, it is very unlikely that all “10,000 people a day” would show up at once, this road system has never had to accommodate this volume of automobile traffic and it won’t be able to without major upgrades to the road system.