At a community meeting called by East Boston’s elected officials, MassDOT was forced to admit that when designing the new entrance into the Sumner Tunnel the state agency used outdated traffic projections. MassDOT 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 represented a growth 20 times what MassDOT expected.
Today, Sen. Joseph Boncore (Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation) and Rep. Adrian Madaro (Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation) have teamed up to file a package of bills to address the growing traffic issue in Eastie.
“It is the number one complaint we get in the office,” said Madaro. “I filed a series of bills in the House and Sen. Boncore did the same in the Senate to address this issue of traffic and congestion in the neighborhood. We are attacking this issue from a number of angles to incentivise public transportation, to decrease the amount of vehicles that are on our streets and a transportation study.
One bill in the duo’s package would implement a congestion pricing pilot program for the tunnels that offers lower tolls at off-peak hours.
“This is an attempt to motivate commuters to stay home during rush hour if they can and travel to work when congestion is not at its peak,” said Madaro.
Sen. Boncore said we are in the midst of a what he calls a ‘perfect storm’ when it comes to traffic in the area.
“We are experiencing unprecedented growth at Logan Airport, in the areas population coupled with new technology like ride-sharing apps and other apps like Waze by Google has been a recipe for disaster,” said Boncore.
Boncore and Madaro’s bills address these issues and aims to impose a $3 fee on any ride-sharing trips from Uber and Lyft entering or exiting Logan International Airport without a passenger.
“This is referred to as ‘deadheading’ in the industry,” said Madaro. “When the ride-share driver decides to just head over to the airport knowing he will get a fare without a passenger that is may be going to Logan it’s adding to our neighborhood’s congestion. The same can be said when a driver takes a passenger to Logan but doesn’t want to pick up at the airport and instead exits to East Boston to find another fare. The money raised by these fees would go into a fund that would be used to fund transportation infrastructure improvements.”
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 plaza. According to MassDOT 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.
Boncore said 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 Boncore.
Also, new apps like Waze by Google that help motorists avoid traffic have had dire effects on the traffic in Eastie. MassDOT has 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. Traffic entering the tunnel from Route 1A has decreased but during the same period traffic caused by cars accessing the tunnel from local streets has increased.
Out of all the cars accessing the tunnel from Porter Street, London Street and Visconte Way only 45 percent of the motorists are Eastie resident. The remaining 55 percent are from outside the neighborhood.
This could be because traffic avoidance apps like Waze 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.
“There’s no doubt that people’s quality of life have been impacted by the congestion,” said Madaro. “This is not just a transportation issue it’s also a public safety issue and a public health issue. In terms of public safety, God forbid we have to get an ambulance or other emergency vehicles through the tunnel during rush hour it is near impossible. We have to be able to get those vehicles to the other side of the tunnel were all the hospitals are in a timely fashion. IN terms of public health we now have thousands of idling vehicles on populated streets that have never experienced this level of traffic before. This combining factors have no doubt led to a decrease in quality of life for my constituents.”