By John Lynds
After hearing residents’ complaints that there hasn’t been enough community input for the proposed changes to the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza as MassDOT moves to implement All Electronic Tolling (AET) in Eastie, officials came back with some changes.
At a community meeting recently, MassDOT’s presentation was similar to the one given on March 8 in East Boston, except they have tweaked the design a little.
The new design presented at the meeting restores the current turn on to Havre street from Route 1A. The new design eliminates the traffic light for cars attempting to enter tunnel-bound lanes from Porter Street and replaces it with a yield sign. The green space has been reconfigured from a hilled landscaped area to a flat grassy area.
The tweaked design also includes the possibility for traffic calming measures and various adjustments to islands and dotted lines.
However, the presentation was met with mixed reviews.
According to attendees, like Michael Passariello, there were numerous concerns over safety and feasibility of the merge for local drivers into the tunnel bound lanes.
“While a speed limit of 30 mph will be posted, many residents in attendance agreed that this is probably not feasible because cars have no reason to slow down to 30 mph if there is nothing stopping them,” he said. “Compared to residential streets like Bennington street where travel at 30 mph or above is common, this stretch of road does not seem like it will be driven on at 30 mph.”
There were also concerns about backups on Visconti Way stemming from difficult merge conditions into the tunnel for local motorists with a majority residents concerned because their main ways of accessing the toll plaza now can possibly be impacted by the redesign.
Concerns were also raised about inexperienced or elderly drivers who will have to merge into potentially dangerous road conditions as fast moving traffic comes down Route 1A into the tunnel.
At the meeting MassDOT said does not intend to make any aspect of the toll plaza redesign worse than the current conditions and officials said this is demonstrated by cutting down from the current eight lanes of access points into the tunnel to two.
However, residents felt cutting down to two lanes will improve traffic for North Shore commuters but the state’s plan does little for local residents trying to enter the tunnel.
In fact, many at the meeting expressed concerns that the two lanes would be more dangerous because cars on the highway will be traveling at increased speeds and will not have to slow for a toll booth or local traffic trying to enter the Sumner.
Former Secretary of Transportation Fred Salvucci gave his perspective on the toll plaza plan and said it is a mistake not to revisit earlier plans to depress the highway near the tunnel. The original plan was proposed by Antonio DiMambro decades ago.
“It is a mistake not to raise the issue of the Antonio DiMambro on the depression of the approach to the toll plaza, with the great visionary reconnection of the streets severed by the Sumner, and then the Callahan Tunnels,” said Salvucci. “The builders of Sumner tunnel had enough money to build a tunnel under Boston Harbor, but not enough to extend the tunnel a tiny bit more. Instead, they created a scar in the urban fabric.
The Big Dig was supposed to fully consider the DiMambro plan during the Big Dig, which former Mayor Ray Flynn had supported, but was too late to include in the SFEIS (Supplement to Final Environmental Impact Statement). As the SFEIS headed for finalization the Turnpike Authority was supposed to do the technical work to let it happen.
“When Secretary of Transportation James Kerasiotis reneged on the Big Dig commitment for the ramps to be at or below grade near the Stadium and Bremen Street Park, Attorney Peter Koff and Air Inc. went to court,” said Salvucci. “I submitted an affidavit in support of the Air Inc. position and the judge literally fell asleep as every law firm in Boston undermined the community position. But the old elevated structure by Santarpio’s is going to need rebuilding soon, and now is the right time to start demanding that the outrage of the 1930s gets fixed the right way, with DiMambro’s visionary plan.”