Monday’s morning traffic nightmare was not a cruel April Fools joke; it was just the reality in living in a neighborhood were no state transportation officials seem to know how to get a handle on or solve East Boston’s traffic issues.
A car accident before 7 a.m. brought Eastie commute to an absolute standstill. The accident inside the tunnel reduced the tunnel to one lane during the start of rush hour.
Less than 20 minutes later the accident’s ripple effect was felt throughout Eastie. Route 1A was a parking lot. Bennington Street was backed up to Orient Heights Square. Virtually every car on every side street in the neighborhood leading into the tunnel was halted for more than an hour.
It took motorists an average of one hour and 20 minutes to travel from Orient Heights to the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel.
Compounding the problem was MassDOT’s slow response to the accident. A tow truck was dispatched to the accident scene inside the tunnel to move the cars involved in the accident.
The only problem was the tow truck was dispatched from the Eastie side of the tunnel and was stuck in the same gridlock as everyone else. It took the tow truck almost a half hour to even reach the accident.
By this time, traffic was already living nightmare on Eastie’s streets.
It took Cary Marchi, who lives less than a half mile from the tunnel on Saratoga Street, an hour to travel from her home to the Sumner Tunnel.
Another resident, John Walkey, said walking back from the YMCA going up Brooks Street from Bremen all the way to the High School he witnessed every street going towards the tunnel was backed up.
“Complete and utter mess from one accident in the Tunnel? Yeah, we’re prepared for an actual emergency situation, sure,” he said.
The frustration grew online when there seemed to be no explanation from MassDOT on the lack of protocol when an accident occurs in the tunnel.
According to a source, the old protocol decades ago seemed to work and residents are calling for this protocol to be reinstated.
If an accident occured in the tunnel State Troopers would block the entrance of the tunnel to allow for the traffic within the tunnel to clear out. The State Troopers would then dispatch a tow truck or ‘push’ truck from the North End side of the tunnel. The tow truck and/or push truck would then have two full lanes and an empty tunnel to work in and would usually have the accident cleared up in 10 to 15 minutes. Once the cars were cleared the tunnel would reopen and traffic would start flowing again.
“I think it is something we need to reexamine,” said Rep. Adrian Madaro. “A fender bender in the tunnel should not close our neighborhood down for hours. Monday was ridiculous and I’ll be meeting with MassDOT officials this week to discuss not only a protocol for accidents in the tunnel going forward, but also their plan to keep diverted traffic from the Tobin Bridge project out of East Boston.”
The Tobin Bridge rehab project also began Monday night and will take two years to complete.
That project has already vexed residents because MassDOT failed to host any local community meetings regarding the project and its impacts to the community, but instead held a series of meetings for residents living on the North Shore.
“Having meetings in other communities and not East Boston is like a doctor performing heart surgery by only addressing the arteries in the legs,” said D-7 Police Captain Kelly McCormick. “Everything will eventually flow here and I haven’t seen a plan.”
Adding insult to injury MassDOT officials at these North Shore meetings and through press releases urged North Shore commuters to use Google Waze.
This comes three months after MassDOT officials at a community meeting at East Boston High complained that Eastie’s traffic problems were caused in part by phone apps like Waze.
At that meeting, MassDOT engineer Andrew Paul said Waze, 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. “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.”
MassDOT expected traffic into the Sumner to only grow by 2.5 percent from 2013 to 2018.
However, Paul said 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.