By John Lynds
As MassDOT and the City of Boston struggle to figure out what has gone wrong since opening the newly configured Sumner Tunnel toll plaza, which has led to absolute gridlock in the neighborhood during the morning commute, the increase in traffic has led to some unexpected consequences for parents in the neighborhood.
As traffic engineers try to solve the glitches in the new toll plaza layout, East Boston parents have been reporting late arrivals to school nearly everyday. With the average travel time from Orient Heights in Eastie to the other end of the neighborhood well over a half hour on most days, students have been arriving late to school as their parents and guardians can’t get down the neighborhood’s major thoroughfares.
On Monday and Tuesday morning the toll plaza’s new traffic patterns backed cars up on Bennington Street to Royals Roast Beef. Bremen Street was backed up to Day Square. Meridian Street heading north was backed up to Maverick Square while Meridian Street coming from Chelsea was backed up to the bridge. There was no relief on Bennington and Chelsea Streets, two main streets in Eastie. as lower Bennington was backed up to Day Square as was Chelsea Street.
Parents trying to get their children to school from the northern part of the neighborhood are becoming increasingly frustrated with the congestion since the new toll plaza opened.
“Why is nothing being done to fix the tunnel situation in East Boston?”, asked Leah Forbes, whose daughter attends East Boston Central Catholic. “The traffic is backed up past Royals (Roast Beef) on Bennington street. This is so unfair to the people that live here. My daughter goes to school a half mile away and it takes 45 minutes to drop her off.”
Amanda Tritto repaired she was in Day Square at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday morning and didn’t get to the Mario Umana Academy on Border Street until almost a half hour later. Without traffic, that trip would normally take five minutes according to Google Maps. Walking the .08 miles from Day Square to the Umana would have taken Tritto half the time it took her to drive the route during the morning commute.
City Councilor Sal LaMattina called the morning traffic a ‘nightmare’ and said he is working with MassDOT and city transportation officials to quickly solve this problem.
“I’m just as frustrated as everyone right now,” said LaMattina. “This is a nightmare. It usually takes one week for drivers to get use to a new traffic pattern. It’s been two weeks now and there clearly is no improvement and things seem to be getting worse.”
LaMattina said there is a scheduled traffic meeting with the city and state to come up with a plan.
“I’m not a traffic engineer but I think we have to go back to six lanes in the plaza,” he said. “If these means eliminating some of the green space that MassDOT planned I’m all for it. As it stands now the layout does not work.”
MassDOT spokesman, Patrick Marvin, said as with every project, MassDOT is committed to conducting operations in ways that minimize the impact on the traveling public and local community.
“Throughout the planning stages for this project, MassDOT has worked and is still working closely with the local community through public meetings, coordination meetings with elected officials, the City of Boston, business groups and leaders, and other key stakeholders,” said Marvin. “At the request of the local community, MassDOT waited to proceed with toll plaza demolition activities at this location and incorporated public feedback into the project design through all phases of construction.”
Marvin said MassDOT expected some degree of traffic impacts as there are lane merges and construction setups in the area leading into the tunnel.
“It’s important to note that these impacts will vary with traffic volumes during the peak and off-peak times, and as drivers become accustomed to the new traffic patterns at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel,” he said. “MassDOT has appropriately been taking several steps to mitigate traffic impacts and there continue to be daily phone calls between MassDOT, Boston Transportation Department, and Massport officials in order to evaluate traffic flow and logistics.”
Marvin added that MassDOT is continuing to conduct analysis and review toll plaza traffic and will be making roadway changes as soon as this Thursday. This according to Marvin, will include adjusting traffic patterns, increasing signage, and using law enforcement to move traffic along through the local intersection in order to ensures that traffic on Route 1A is taking advantage of the two lanes of traffic into the tunnel, while balancing the demands of local traffic to also have access.
“MassDOT will continue to update the traveling public on its proactive adjustments and monitoring of this location as more information is available,” said Marvin. “MassDOT appreciates the cooperation and understanding of the traveling public as we continue toll demolition and road reconstruction operations and work towards achieving the benefits of All Electronic Tolling including reduced congestion, less harmful environmental impacts, and increased safety.”
Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said BTD is closely monitoring the impact that the MassDOT toll plaza project is having on the East Boston neighborhood.
“BTD staff is making frequent visits to the neighborhood and monitoring traffic camera feed as well,” said Fiandaca. “We are providing real-time traffic reports and feedback to the state to assist them in their efforts to correct the current traffic problems. BTD is participating in daily meetings with MassDOT to examine the adverse impacts on the East Boston community and we are working with them to ensure that solutions are found to mitigate these impacts as quickly as possible. We are particularly concerned with traffic congestion during the morning peak hours on local streets in the general vicinity of the project. We will monitor the effect of new measures to be taken by the state this week in the hope that they ease traffic congestion in the neighborhood and provide relief to local residents.”