By John Lynds
MassDOT has begun work on infrastructure for two vertical gantry supports on the East Boston sides of the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels as the state transportation agency moves to implement All Electronic Tolling (AET). Work began last week and will continue during off-peak hours during the next several days with gantries scheduled to be activated in October.
Instead of paying one toll on the Eastie side, the E-Z Pass toll will be split in half on the Eastie side and the North End side of the Sumner and Callahan Tunnels. So instead of non-Eastie residents paying $3 they will pay $1.50 on the Eastie side and then $1.50 on the North End side of the tunnels. Eastie residents with the resident discount will pay $0.20 on each side.
Installing AETs in Eastie will also include a total reconfiguration of the Eastie toll plaza. MassDOT’s plans for the long awaited reconfiguration caused some controversy among Eastie residents who complained that there hasn’t been enough community input on the proposed changes to the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza.
At a May community meeting, MassDOT’s presentation was similar to the one given on March 8 in Eastie, except they have tweaked the design a little after listening to concerns.
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. There were numerous concerns over safety and feasibility of the merge for local drivers into the tunnel bound lanes.
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 officials stressed that any aspect of the toll plaza redesign will not make than the current conditions any worse 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.
Two weeks ago, the City of Boston asked MassDOT to go back to the drawing board and make further tweaks to the toll plaza design to address further concerns.