By John Lynds
Inside the City of Boston’s Traffic Management Center last week Boston Transportation Department Deputy Commissioner Jim Gillooly was keeping a close eye on the traffic in East Boston during rush hour where Gillooly and his team have access to 400 cameras set up at intersections around the city. However, lately a majority of the focus has been on the cameras placed around the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza.
“When it comes to a project like the Sumner Tunnel (toll plaza) project we asked MassDOT to put up a couple of portable cameras on trailers so we can see the traffic in real time,” said Gillooly. “We can best help if we can see from the management center as traffic happens, especially during rush hour.”
Since the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza was reconfigured and reopened to traffic a few weeks ago, Gillooly, BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca and the entire team of traffic engineers have been troubleshooting to solve the unexpected mess of traffic that resulted from the plaza’s reconfigu ration.
“We developed a plan ahead of time but we all know from experience plans often need to be tweaked after the fact,” said Gillooly of gridlock woes that plagued Eastie’s side streets as the tunnel was reopened.
“This project proved challenging for a couple of reasons,” said Gillooly. “We found that when the city and MassDOT made a change to the original plan to give Massport some relief because traffic was backed into Logan Airport terminals it caused more traffic on the neighborhood’s side streets. We had to find a way to achieve a balance between the traffic in the neighborhoods and meter the ability for residents here to have accessibility to the tunnel with the backups that were occurring inside Logan Airport.”
The original MassDOT plan called for the far right lane on Route 1A to be a ‘local exit only’ lane. This configuration, with a traffic light at the bottom of the ramp, allowed traffic on Visconti Way to easily flow into the tunnel during a green light. When Visconti Way had a red light it gave local motorists across the plaza entering the tunnel from Porter Street easy access into the tunnel because the Route 1A traffic in the ‘local exit only’ lane was prohibited from turning left into the tunnel.
That all changed a week after the tunnel reopened. Following requests from Massport to remove the ‘local exit only’ lane and allow that traffic to turn left into the tunnel–all hell broke loose in the community.
“We had our concerns with that plan,” admitted Gillooly.
Gillooly said BTD immediately noticed that Porter traffic was having a hard time entering the tunnel because there was no break from traffic coming from Route 1A and Visconti way now that the ‘local exit only’ lane was a free-for-all.
“That right lane coming down from the highway and into the tunnel as well as the Traffic from Visconti Way was constant,” said Gillooly. “And that is what was chocking some of the side streets.”
However, last week MassDOT and the city came up with a new plan that Gillooly says seems to be working. They have returned the far right lane coming down from Route 1A to a ‘local exit only’ lane and opened the far left lane during peak Logan Airport traffic times–allowing two lanes of traffic into the tunnel during the afternoon.
“We found that we needed better local access into the tunnel during the morning,” said Gillooly. “But in the afternoon we noticed that local volume into the tunnel lessens but airport traffic into the tunnel increases so opening that far left lane seems to be helping.”
While Gillooly is not yet ready to declare victory he is confident once drivers are ‘trained’ to drive through the new configuration things will improve dramatically.
“Every day we have a conversation with MassDOT and compare notes of what we are seeing in the management center and what they are seeing in the field at the mouth of the tunnel,” said Gillooly. “Right now we don’t want to keep changing the configuration every week because that will lead to more confusion. So we are in the phase of giving this plan a couple of weeks because we want to see if the traffic worsens on improves. If we have a few weeks of constant improvement then we’ll know its working.”