Massdot Officials Order Panels Removed from Sumner Tunnel

After removing 117 wall panels from the Callahan Tunnel last month and an additional two-dozen panels from the adjoining Sumner Tunnel last week, MassDOT has decided to remove all panels from the Callahan, which connects Downtown Boston to East Boston.

By last week 75 percent of all the 2,400 panels were removed and MassDOT Frank DePaolo said the rest should be down by this week.

DePaolo also urged drivers using the Callahan to use headlights while in the tunnel because the removal of the reflective panels will decrease available light.

In December a 100 lb. wall panel in the tunnel fell off the wall of the tunnel and landed in the road. The panels, which date back to the 1990s, are 9 ft. by 4 ft. and replaced older panels in order to give the tunnel a better look and reflect light for improved visibility in the tunnel for motorists.

After the panel fell, MassDOT was forced to shut down the Callahan so inspectors could perform a ‘pull test’ on the some 2,000 panels that line the tunnel.

After the inspections it was found that 117 panels did not pass the pull test and had to be removed. DePaola said the framing holding the panels in place had corroded.

DePaola said inspectors took down every panel that showed some degree of looseness. The rest, DePaola said, where firmly secured and MassDOT was confident they would not fall onto the road in the Callahan.

A week after performing the pull test in the Callahan, MassDOT inspectors moved over to the Sumner Tunnel where they performed the same testing.

They found that 26 panels needed to come down due to corrosion. MassDOT officials said any panel that moved even slightly was taken down in both the Sumner and Callahan.

MassDOT will replace the tiles in the Sumner over the next few weeks.

The Callahan was up for an overhaul beginning this month. The overhaul of the tunnel will extend into April 2013. The project will cost between $10 million and $12 million.

The Callahan Tunnel is one of three tunnels that connect East Boston to Boston via routes under the Boston Harbor, the others being the Sumner and Ted Williams Tunnels.  The tunnel was opened in 1961. It was named for the son of Turnpike chairman William F. Callahan, who was killed in Italy just days before the end of World War II. Operatic Tenor, William Flavin, of Milton Mass. sang the Star Spangled Banner and Oh Danny Boy at the opening of the Callahan Tunnel in 1961.

Historically, control signals were used to reverse direction of one lane in this tunnel or the Sumner Tunnel, when the opposite tunnel was closed for maintenance or emergencies. Under the relevant Turnpike regulations, a yellow signal light means, “proceed only as directed”.  As the signals are almost always yellow, drivers have historically ignored this rule.

Other markings in the tunnel include a “double white line” in the center intended to discourage drivers from changing lanes, another rule that has been universally ignored.

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