Toll Plaza Removal:Project Could Lead to Future Depression of Route 1A and the Reconnection of Historic Streets?

March 17, 2016

By John Lynds

In the early 1930s an entire section of East Boston was decimated by the construction of the Sumner Tunnel and East Boston Toll Plaza. A thriving section of the community that ran along Porter Street from Central Square to Bremen Street was dotted with shops, push cart vendors and homes.

These were taken by eminent domain, razed and the tunnel and toll plaza were created and opened in 1934.

Now, 82 years later, MassDOT is planning the implementation of All Electronic Tolling (AET) and will be removing  the toll plaza at the Sumner  Tunnel once and for all. At a community meeting last week at East Boston High School, MassDOT officials said this project  includes  the reconfiguration and reconstruction of the approaching roadways to the Sumner  Tunnel  and adjacent  intersections. The  work  will also include  upgrades to signage, pavement  markings, pedestrian  accommodations, and roadway appurtenances within the limits of work.

However, some question if MassDOT is rushing the plan through to get it up and running by October before Eastie residents start asking for mitigation in return.

Sure, the AET program will relieve traffic and gridlock but some at last week’s meeting were of the opinion that while MassDOT is making life easier, and cheaper, for themselves by improving toll collecting and cutting toll collector jobs Eastie does not seem to be getting much in return aside from some new plantings in the center of the once barren toll plaza.

Enter an old lawsuit filed against the Federal Government and State by East Boston AirInc. in 1999.

MassDOT administrators talk about the removal of the East Boston toll plaza at a meeting last week.

MassDOT administrators talk about the removal of the East Boston
toll plaza at a meeting last week.

At the time AirInc., a group of Eastie environmentalist sued the feds and state arguing that they reneged on promises made during the Big Dig. While Eastie residents saw the Central Artery depressed, a greenway constructed and historic downtown streets reconnected as part of the Big Dig, Eastie got zilch even though AirInc. members said there was a plan in 1991 to depress Route 1A and the toll plaza.

The plan would have rebuilt Bremen and Chelsea Streets (now under the highway) and reconnect Paris and Havre Streets but said the plan was scrapped in 1998 after the feds and state filed a notice of project change in 1997.

While the lawsuit produced meaningful mitigation like the Bremen Street Park, the court ruled that the federal government “was under no duty to consider the future depression of the Sumner-Callahan toll plaza and ramps. That proposed project is neither connected nor cumulative in impact with the Central Artery Project… and the plaintiffs did not proffer sufficient evidence to establish that this proposed project is anything more than a community goal.”

Now, 17 years after the lawsuit and ruling, some feel there is an opportunity to put the plan of depressing Route 1A back on the table as a ‘Phase II” project to MassDOT’s AET program and removal of the toll plaza in Eastie.

This would, once and for all, bring back a section of Eastie that has played host for far too long to the needs of Logan Airport and North Shore commuters.


MassDOT administrators talk about the removal of East Boston toll plaza at a meeting last week.

A drawing of the plans for the East Boston Toll Plaza after the tolls are removed.