NOAH Seeks Alternative Plans to Toll Plaza Project

By John Lynds

Last month MassDOT presented its plans to reconfigure East Boston’s toll plaza heading into the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel. However, poor attendance at that meeting coupled with public opinion that MassDOT is rushing the toll plaza project before any meaningful community process has some wanting the project to be reexamined.

MassDOT said that the design they submitted to the community back in March will be 100 percent completed by Friday, youth from East Boston’s Neighborhood of Affordable Housing’s (NOAH) Community Building and Environment Youth Crew have offered an alternative to MassDOT’s plans.

The Youth Crew found that although MassDOT’s implementation of All Electronic Tolling (AET) and removal of the toll plaza will improve traffic for North Shore commuters, the state’s plan does little for Eastie residents trying to enter the tunnel.

“MassDOT has proposed a redesign of the Toll Plaza as part of the conversion to all electronic tolling,” said NOAH’s Youth Crew member Michael Passariello. “They had a public meeting last month at which they said their design process was 75 percent complete.  Unfortunately this was the first we heard of the project.”

Passariello said MassDOT’s plan of offering only a densely planted berm which is clearly designed not to be active, the proposal not only fails to address community needs, but it appears to create impacts.

The NOAH youth crew said MassDOT’s plan would eliminate Havre Street access to residential areas from 1A, which should add to congestion in Central Square and impact 1A

“The plan also creates a single merge point for local tunnel access (down from 8 lanes now) and would create delays as high volumes of local East Boston, Winthrop, Revere and Chelsea traffic attempt to access 1A during a variety of traffic flow rates on 1A at the tunnel mouth risking traffic back-ups causing potential impacts on community traffic patterns and 1A,” said Passariello.

NOAH also found MassDOT’s plan increases risk of accidents at the merge for which local motorists will be at fault.

 “We find the plan increases tunnel traffic congestion impacts on local streets by removing plaza storage capacity for local motorists and does not stop 1A traffic as it crosses London Street into Central Square, perpetuating dangerous pedestrian conditions,” said Passariello.

Passariello said NOAH has clearly shown, this plan has been created to ease 1A traffic with little thought to the local community.

“John White (longtime East Boston APAC Director) always preaches about the damage the Turnpike Authority has inflicted on East Boston -and how they’ve had a free ride,” said Passariello. “And while the roadway ought to be depressed completely and the streets reconnected, we are not opening up that conversation.  Instead, we are recommending that the Toll Plaza become Porter Plaza and achieve some modest community goals in the process.”

At a meeting Monday night in Jeffries Point, the NOAH youth handed out flyers of their proposed alternatives to MassDOT’s plans for the plaza.

The images show how traffic could be handled to improve pedestrian safety, ease local congestion, reactivate open space and facilitate other co-benefits.

“Our proposals come at the cost of potentially stopping local bound traffic coming off of 1A and Visconti Way for pedestrians crossing the plaza,” said NOAH’s Youth Crew Director Chris Marchi. “But these alternatives are actually quite 1A friendly, as they do not require a full stop of the highway.  We also feel that all redesign options require a slow zone to be created. Local traffic merging from a standstill with so little acceleration area will be at risk in fast flow, high volume traffic conditions.”

NOAH’s Youth Crew is asking MassDOT to produce the comprehensive traffic study that was used to reconfigure the toll plaza.

“We need to see whatever traffic study was done for this project,” said Marchi. “There is a high likelihood that tunnel traffic congestion will create backups of traffic into local streets. There is reason to believe that local traffic impacts will occur during a wide variety of traffic flow conditions.  The effects of the traffic backups can be far more severe than many residents understand.  Not only did traffic in the mid 90’s routinely back up to my block of Saratoga Street, but in the 70’s and 80’s, when I lived on Meridian Street, tunnel traffic would backup down Meridian, past my house and all the way to the McArdle Bridge, over the bridge and into Chelsea.”

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.

Both Rep. Adrian Madaro and Mayoral Liaison Claudia Correa said they are looking into the alternative plans submitted by the Youth Crew and are putting pressure on MassDOT to conduct further community meetings in order to get more input and feedback from residents.

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