For two years, it has been painfully obvious that MassDOT’s project to reconfigure the former Sumner Tunnel has been a failure and residents want the department to admit defeat.
The project to replace the former toll booths at the mouth of the tunnel has not improved traffic but has made the morning commute a lot worse for Eastie residents.
The traffic, which usually starts around 7 a.m. in the neighborhood, causes gridlock not only in the tunnel plaza but nearly every main and side street running through Eastie. Last Friday, a broken bus blocked the local access lane into the tunnel causing what can only be described as a nightmarish traffic situation of epic proportions as virtually every street leading into the tunnel was closed down by police in order to tow the bus out of the lane. People reported waiting on Bremen, Chelsea, Bennington, Paris, London and Marion streets for nearly an hour. Some commuters were just a few blocks from the mouth of the Sumner, but were forced to wait until the problem could be solved.
On other days when there are no breakdowns, traffic is at an almost complete standstill.
“There was a period in the 1980s when traffic flowed into the tunnel smoothly but the issue was with the traffic inside the tunnel,” said Eastie activist Chris Marchi. “The fact that traffic is flowing smoothly once inside the tunnel but all the streets in the neighborhood are gridlocked is a new phenomenon.”
For months MassDOT officials have asked residents to be patient as work continues on the plaza but many fear the new configuration plan is not working and will not work in the future once construction wraps up.
Massport Board member and Eastie resident John Nucci said he plans to address the issue at the next Massport board meeting. He hopes the Port Authority can put pressure on the MassDOT to rethink the project. He also wants Massport to look at ways the agency, as a responsible neighbor, can begin to explore ways to lessen airport related traffic into the tunnel in the morning and not add to the daily gridlock residents have been experiencing for two years.
“I sit in the traffic every day,” said Nucci. “Something drastic needs to be done sooner rather than later.”
Saratoga Street resident Nicole DaSilva said she’s had it with the morning traffic. Living just a few blocks from the tunnel DaSilva said there are morning she can’t even get out of her parking space.
“It’s congested with bumper to bumper traffic for two hours during the morning commute when the kids are going to school,” said DaSilva. “The traffic is a major concern as it impacts the time buses and students arrive at school. This is not a normal morning rush hour traffic issue and frankly, it’s frustrating to continue to hear people play it off as such. I’ve been on Saratoga Street for decades. It’s never been like this! It has grown increasingly worse since the tolls came down and they redesigned and redesigned and redesigned the tunnel traffic route.”
DaSilva said not only is the traffic an annoyance it has become a public safety and quality of life issue.
“How do first responders get down these one way streets and navigate through East Boston in case of an emergency when there is literally nowhere to go? How do we ensure that students are getting to school on time and that their education isn’t being impacted by arriving late?,” said DaSilva. “Meetings, letters, complaints, and suggestions are being offered all the time by community members and by our State Rep Adrian Madaro. Nothing has helped alleviate this issue. Is anyone that can help fix this really listening with the intent to help?”
Longtime Eastie resident Joanne Pomodoro complained that during the design phase perhaps MassDOT should have listened to the community instead of taking comments at community meetings leading up to the project and doing whatever they wanted in the end.
“It could of of helped everyone if MassDOT listened to the community during the review process…what did they think we were idiots?”, said Pomodoro. “They had a plan and planned to do it their way. The community spoke and offered feedback and this is one of those cases, all to common now a days, where instead of always looking at East Boston residents as complainers, they might have listened to us an avoided this mess.”
Until MassDOT figures out the mess that they created in Eastie, Boston, police will have to be out directing traffic in and around the tunnel in the morning to help traffic move more smoothly.