MassDOT has installed a swing lane gate at the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel that will open to allow for an additional travel lane into the Sumner or close to optimize traffic flow into the tunnel by East Boston residents.
On Monday MassDOT announced the hours of operation for the swing gate and swing lane based on traffic data since the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza was removed and reconfigured as part of the All Electronic Tolling (AET) program.
Starting this week the tunnel’s swing lane will be closed each weekday from 5 a.m. until 10 a.m. This means there will only be one lane of travel for motorists accessing the Sumner via Route 1A South. Motorists will merge from the center lane into the far left lane to access the Sumner between those hours of operation.
The swing lane will then be open all other times, including weekend hours, unless otherwise noted. This will mean the center lane into the tunnel will be open for traffic as an additional lane into the tunnel.
“Members of the public should note that MassDOT activated the automated “swing gate” and digital signage this week at the Sumner Tunnel,” said MassDOT in a statement. “This swing gate consists of the same infrastructure that is in place on the I-93 HOV lane and replaces traffic cones that were previously utilized to close the Sumner Tunnel Swing Lane.”
The Sumner Tunnel swing lane is in place due to the unique traffic conditions in Eastie.
During the peak morning hours, much of the traffic traveling through the tunnel is local traffic from Eastie. During other times, local traffic decreases while traffic coming from Logan Airport on Route 1A increases. As a result, the Sumner Tunnel Swing Lane will be closed during the morning rush to accommodate Eastie traffic, and will be open during other hours to provide additional access for traffic on Route 1A.
Eastie’s traffic nightmare began over two years ago after the Sumner Tunnel tolls were taken down and replaced with AET.
Apparently MassDOT, when designing the new entrance into the mouth of the tunnel used outdated traffic projections that predicted traffic going into the tunnel would grow by half a percent each year.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 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.
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.
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.
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.