Elected Officials Call for Toll Plaza Meeting

By John Lynds

While MassDOT officials remain focused on easing congestion at the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza, East Boston’s elected officials and residents have had enough.

Since MassDOT took down the tunnel’s toll booths as part the All Electronic Tolling (AET) project and reopening the plaza to vehicular traffic in May, Eastie resident have endured a traffic nightmare. The road reconfigurations have led to long queues entering the tunnel and backups that extend out onto neighborhood streets.

“We share the community’s frustration and the traffic flow into the Sumner Tunnel is far from what it should be three months into this project,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro, Sen. Joseph Boncore and City Councilor Sal LaMattina in a joint statement. “We are in constant communication with MassDOT and Boston Transportation. We realize more work needs to be done to address the traffic situation in East Boston and have asked MassDOT officials to come back to the community and give residents their plan to solve this problem before the school year starts–a time when we see a dramatic increase in traffic volume. We will not stop working on this issue until the project is one that works for East Boston residents.”

In a statement, MassDOT officials agreed that there should have been a seasonal reduction in traffic during the summer months but that, for some reason, did not happen.

“MassDOT continues to focus on easing congestion at the Sumner Tunnel, recognizing that we have not seen the historical seasonal reduction in traffic,” said MassDOT in the statement. “MassDOT has had and will continue to regularly coordinate with community members, elected officials, and various stakeholders.  In addition, MassDOT will be hosting a project update meeting in the coming weeks.”

Former Boston Superintendent of Tunnels for the Sumner/Callahan John Vitagliano offered his observations on the current traffic conditions and said residents should be alarmed if something is not done quickly to remedy the situation.

As a traffic consultant and expert Vitagliano said he is very concerned about the quality of life degradation in the densely populated neighborhoods surrounding the Sumer Tunnel.

“The new traffic congestion has led to frequent conflicts between local East Boston motorists attempting to access the Sumner Tunnel and the Route 1A traffic stream, a significant safety issue,” he said. “I fully realize that the Sumner Tunnel plaza is multi-functional, being required to serve many conflicting traffic streams. However, the current configuration imposes an unacceptable burden on the East Boston community which tragically and ironically was deprived of a major thriving neighborhood which was taken for the Sumner Tunnel. I respectfully urge MassDOT to reconfigure the current Sumner Tunnel plaza design to provide justice and equity for East Boston.”

Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Gina Fiandaca sent a letter to Acting Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver calling on MassDOT to revert to the prior traffic control plan that allowed better access to the Sumner Tunnel for the Eastie community.

“I am writing you to go on record that the City of Boston strongly objects to the change in the traffic control plan at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel that was made unilaterally by MassDOT on Tuesday, July 11th, and still remains in effect,” said Fiandaca in the letter. “The change instituted a 24-hour configuration whereby Route 1A southbound traffic has full access to both lanes into the tunnel portal.  Prior to July 11 residents of East Boston entering from local streets such as Porter Street, London Street and Visconti Road had safe and predictable access to one lane into the tunnel during the morning peak period and throughout the rest of the day–except for the p.m. peak period. Now that this unilateral decision to change the traffic control plan has been made, two major problems have been created that are adversely impacting the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

Fiandaca pointed out that congestion has once again escalated throughout the nearby neighborhood streets, especially during the morning peak period, creating a public safety hazard which the prior plan was designed to avoid.

“An unsafe condition has been created at other times of the day as local traffic from two approaches are now being forced to merge into two fast moving lanes of traffic on Route 1A, just as that state road curves in its approach to the Sumner Tunnel Portal,” she wrote. “BTD has impressed upon MassDOT that the current configuration is having serious adverse impacts throughout the entire Day Square to Maverick Square corridor and has called upon MassDOT to address these concerns prior to the start of the school year.”

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