Sumner Tunnel traffic nightmare to begin this week: weekend closures begin this Friday June 10

At a meeting in 2017, MassDOT officials, in response to the daily traffic jam during the morning commute caused by the reconfiguration of the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza, were forced to admit that they had used outdated traffic data during the preparation of the toll plaza project.

MassDOT officials’ numbers were so wrong it was almost laughable that a major state agency could botch a major road improvement project in east Boston that was supposed to improve traffic, not make it worse. .

From inadequate traffic studies to sparsely attended community meetings before the toll plaza project begins, Eastie residents are experiencing a bit of deja vu when it comes to the upcoming Sumner Tunnel project.

MassDOT will close the Sumner Tunnel every weekend for the next 36 weeks starting this Friday (June 10), then close the tunnel completely for four months in the spring of 2023.

During a webinar last week, it’s clear that residents are growing weary of the upcoming project.

A question posed to MassDOT officials at last week’s meeting that captured the sentiment of the community at large touched on the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza debacle.

When asked how Eastie residents could trust anything MassDOT is saying regarding impacts on traffic, timelines and community process given the severely mismanaged toll plaza project.

“I guess in a general sense, the department is still trying to learn from our previous projects,” MassDOT’s Dan Fielding said in response to the question. “We have the detour route setup through the Ted Williams Tunnel as well as this alternate detour route in and around to try and capture people going to 93 North and have them use Route 1A to the Route 16, then over the Tobin Bridge. Right now we are looking at so many of these types of implementations as well as portable and editable message boards that will give people the most up-to-date information.

However, the answer to the question sounded very much like residents of the plans that were in place before the toll plaza was reconfigured and many knew how it happened and Eastie has been paying the price ever since.

With the first phase of the project kicking off this weekend, MassDOT still cannot confirm whether the MBTA Blue Line will be free to residents of Eastie as a mitigation for the impacts the project will have on commuters living here. A free blue line has been something residents have requested at every meeting leading up to this point.

However, a few crumbs were thrown Eastie’s way.

“The current mitigation included for East Boston residents is that during tunnel closures, East Boston residents active in the East Boston Resident EZ Pass program will receive discounts on the Tobin Bridge and the Ted Williams tunnel,” Fielding said, forgetting that Eastie residents already get a discount. at Ted Williams. “MassDOT is in active discussions to identify other potential travel alternatives during the tunnel’s four-month closure in 2023.”

At a meeting in May, MassDOT officials never once mentioned weeknight lane closures, but the week following that meeting, the Sumner Tunnel was reduced to one lane most nights. Residents flooded social media with photos and videos of traffic that looked more like an early morning commute than a random Wednesday night at 11 p.m.

However, MassDOT has confirmed that single-lane nighttime closures will periodically be in place for ongoing maintenance and prep work to support weekend closures.

Some transport experts have pointed out that traffic from Eastie could be rerouted to the Callahan and exit on the emergency ramp onto North Street in the North End and then turn left onto Cross Street. Although not ideal, some believe it is much better than a complete closure of the Sumner Tunnel for four full months. During the Big Dig, the Sumner and Callahan tunnels would periodically handle two-way traffic while work was being completed.

Fielding said that during the design phase the idea of ​​using the Callahan Tunnel when closing the Sumner Tunnel was considered.

“But MassDOT rejected the idea because it would significantly reduce tunnel capacity and make it harder for emergency vehicles to drive through the tunnel,” Fielding said.

At last week’s meeting, Eastie resident Joanne Pomodoro said weekend closures and full closures next year were a public health emergency.

“All the tunnels are already difficult to go through and there are always reinforcements,” Pomodoro said. “My concern is how do EMS ambulances, which can barely pass through the tunnels now, pass through the Ted Williams (the only remaining tunnel option to the city center once the project begins)? Mass General is a hop and a hop and a hop for most of us who live here, but now emergency vehicles are going to have to drive around the Ted Williams and sit in traffic in this tunnel when the minutes and seconds can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Fielding said MassDOT was actively coordinating with emergency responders as well as Mass General.

“As we conduct tabletop exercises in meetings with emergency responders and ambulance services to support their operating procedures,” Feilding said. “We will have tow trucks in place during one of the shutdowns as well as police details.”

MassDOT traffic engineer Gary McNaughton said MassDOT will target areas near the tunnel entrance with police details. McNaughton said that in an emergency, detail cops would direct traffic away from the tunnel entrance to allow emergency vehicles to enter. they will be directed to.

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