By John Lynds
Call state work in progress.
MassDOT finished removing the Sumner Tunnel toll booths over the weekend ahead of schedule and opened the toll plaza’s new configuration in time for the Monday morning commute. However, what followed was a traffic nightmare for many residents.
It took nearly 40 minutes Monday to transverse Eastie from Orient Heights to the mouth of the tunnel. Main thoroughfares like Bennington and Saratoga Streets were choked with cars as well as numerous side streets as confused motorists tried to figure out the new configuration.
The problems began before 8 a.m. Monday as motorists had to deal with a whole new Sumner Tunnel toll plaza. The highway now drops down to two lanes with one being designated for the tunnel and the other for local traffic. There’s a new traffic light on Visconti Way and two streets, London and Porter, dump traffic into the mouth of the tunnel from three different directions.
Both MassDOT and City Transportation officials were stationed in the plaza Monday morning to observe problems with the new traffic patterns. Other officials observed the traffic in real time from the city’s Transportation Command Center at City Hall.
“The Massachusetts Department of Transportation expected some degree of traffic delays today as drivers got use to the new look and lane guides at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel,” said MassDOT Monday in a statement to the East Boston Times. “MassDOT is having regular conversations with the City of Boston and daily calls with those involved in this project, and will be closely monitoring traffic conditions in an effort to evaluate the new traffic signals and approach to the Tunnel.”
BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said the current traffic patterns may be tweaked if there is a need after observing traffic over the course of the next several days. Fiandaca, an Eastie resident herself, reassured residents here and said this isn’t a case of flipping a switch and that’s it.
“We will make adjustments as we go forward and see what traffic flows are working and what traffic flows are not,” she said.
Tuesday was significantly better than the Monday morning commute for motorists but there were still a few choke points.
One of the main choke points seems to be the confluence of were the two-way portion of London Street to the west of the plaza, Porter Street to the north and the one way section of London Street entering the tunnel from the East. Here there are three streets pouring traffic into one lane with frustrated motorists trying to cutoff other vehicles and jockey for position into the single lane that is one of the community’s new access points into the tunnel. This access point feeds traffic from Maverick, Central Square and Eagle Hill in the morning. The problem Monday is those three streets quickly became a choke point and pushed traffic back onto Meridian Street as well as Central Square.
The worst was the portion of London Street coming into the tunnel from the east. The small square one block down were London, Bennington and Marion Streets meet mirrored what the toll plaza use to look like in the morning as dozens of vehicles tried to get through the bottle neck into one lane on London.
The second conflict is as Paris Street enters the Visconti Way flow. Here, traffic standing still on Visconti waiting at the signal for their turn to enter into the tunnel have no room to allow Paris Street traffic in. Thus, Paris Street traffic gridlocks the right lane on Visconti, blocking access to Central Square and Havre street.