MassDOT officials have finally admitted something East Boston residents have been waiting to hear for almost two years.
“We messed up,” said MassDOT Jim Kersten at last week’s meeting at East Boston High School to discuss Eastie’s traffic nightmare since the Sumner Tunnel tolls were taken down and replaced with All Electronic Tolling (AET) two years ago.
Apparently MassDOT, when designing the new entrance into the mouth of the tunnel used outdated traffic projections that predicted traffic going into the tunnel would grow by .5 percent each year.
Going on those projections traffic into the Sumner should have only grown by 2.5 percent from 2013 to 2018.
However, MassDOT engineer Andrew Paul said at last week’s meeting that traffic has exploded and there was a whopping 47 percent increase in tunnel traffic since 2013. That is nearly 45 percent more than MassDOT predicted over the same time period.
“This was 20 times the growth we expected to see” said Paul.
Paul said that an increase in traffic can be traced back to several unforeseen factors.
For one, Massport allowed ride, sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to begin doing business at Logan Airport in the middle of the project to replace the Sumner Tunnel tolls. Logan represents almost a third of the all the traffic flowing into the Sumner during the morning commute and over half of all the traffic in the evening.
Paul said last year Uber and Lyft were responsible for 10 million pick-up and drop-off trips at Logan in 2018. That represents roughly 10,000 trips per day in and out of Eastie using the neighborhood’s tunnels.
“Growth at the airport is increasing and trips to and from the airport are at a historic high,” said Paul.
Also, new apps like ‘Waze by Google’ that help motorists avoid traffic have had dire effects on the traffic in Eastie. Paul pointed out that what has boggled and frustrated MassDOT engineers is that while traffic has increased going into the tunnel a large portion of this increase is coming from Eastie streets and not Route 1A.
“We have seen traffic going into the tunnel decrease from Route 1A but increase in cars accessing the tunnel from local streets,” said Paul.
Out of all the cars accessing the tunnel from Porter Street, London Street and Visconte Way only 45 percent of the motorists are Eastie residents. The remaining 55 percent are from outside the neighborhood.
This could be because traffic avoidance apps are taking motorists off Route 1A and putting them on neighborhood streets that are not well equipped or designed to handle the increase in traffic volume.
“If you go into one of these mapping tools at rush hour in the morning and go from points north to downtown Boston it does not send you on Route 1A it sends you directly through East Boston,” said Paul.
Two-way tolling may also be a factor. Before the toll plaza was removed it cost motorists from outside Eastie $3.50 to get into Boston. Through the new AET program that toll is split in half with motorists being charged $1.75 at the Sumner to go into Boston and $1.75 in the Callahan Tunnel when returning to Eastie. The $3.50 may have been more of a deterrent for motorists to avoid the Sumner Tunnel during the morning commute.
At the meeting, Sen. Joseph Boncore, who chairs the Senate committee on transportation, urged people to use public transportation whenever possible. “We are in a very difficult situation not only here in East Boston but across the Commonwealth,” said Boncore. “This project was not designed to increase capacity to the tunnel but we have to take a hard look at this problem as a region and why we are experiencing so much congestion. I admit, we have failed you with inadequate public transportation infrastructure for 30 years and we are trying to resolve that. But I urge you, if you can, please take public transportation whenever you can. Studies have shown that if you take only five percent of the cars off the road in improves traffic, congestion and gridlock by 20 percent.”