By John Lynds
It’s no secret in the neighborhood that traffic here has gotten worse, not better as a result of MassDOT’s All Electronic Tolling (AET) program that removed the toll booths from the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel. The removal of tolls and subsequent re-configuration of the plaza has led to a traffic nightmare that MassDOT traffic engineers have tried in vain to correct for months.
Recently, one resident reported it took her nearly 45 minutes to travel from her Orient Heights residence to the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza. Many other residents have reported late arrivals to work, being late to drop their children off to school and general frustration over trying to navigate Eastie’s streets during the morning commute.
“The traffic seems to be starting earlier and earlier,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina. “They should be reconfiguring the plaza in the next few weeks and we’ll just have to wait and see if there is an improvement. I share my neighbor’s frustrations because I’m sitting in the same traffic every morning as everyone else.”
MassDOT spokesperson, Patrick Marvin confirmed that MassDOT crews are at work to get the new configuration up and running as soon as possible.
“Crews are continuing with roadways reconstruction operations at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel, and expect that in the coming weeks, the traffic pattern will be adjusted so that vehicles traveling into the Sumner Tunnel will be closer to the median area meaning a straighter approach into the tunnel.” he said. “The timing of this traffic pattern adjustment will be dependent upon the progress of construction work and weather conditions.”
In September hundreds of Eastie residents voiced their disappointment with the whole toll plaza project. From inadequate traffic studies to poorly attended community meetings before the AET went into effect, residents said more could have been done and more community input given before construction began. Some also accused the state agency of trying to shoehorn the AET program, that has worked on the MassPike, into a dense urban area. In places where removing toll booths increased the speed of traffic and decreased gridlock, like the Allston/Brighton, the removal of the Sumner Tunnel tolls has had the complete opposite affect. Residents at the meeting said MassDOT failed to recognize that Eastie’s toll plaza is unique in that it is situated in the middle of a residential and commercial neighborhood. Unlike the Mass Pike tolls, the toll plaza here includes pedestrian traffic, neighborhood traffic as well as North Shore traffic coming down Route 1A. The plaza is bordered by homes, businesses and neighborhood side streets. So MassDOT’s goal of increasing traffic flow and volume for Route1A commuters has had hugely negative affect on the neighborhood as side streets have become completely gridlocked during the morning commute.
Others say MassDOT didn’t do enough to address the gridlock outside of the toll plaza. One problem area has seemed to be where Porter Street and London Street meet and enter the tunnel. The four-way intersection has traffic coming from Harve Street as well as Porter Street traffic coming from Central Square. This, coupled with motorists coming off Route 1A south and heading into Central Square, has led to numerous backups into Central Square, Bennington Street and Meridian Street.
Some pointed out that all it takes is two drivers trying to jockey for position into the one lane leading into the tunnel to cause traffic to start backing up and a ripple effect to occur on side streets.
The reconfiguration that MassDOT thinks will solve Eastie’s traffic problems is to extended the neighborhood’s access to the tunnel from Visconti Way closer to Porter Street. MassDOT plans to eliminate the local exit onto Harve Street from Route 1A South. There will be a designated local access lane into the tunnel during most hours of the day. This will involve a system of swing gates that will shut down one lane coming from Route 1A and allow Eastie motorists to breeze into the tunnel from the far right lane.