Last week Rep. Adrian Madaro filed two bills aimed at relieving traffic congestion in East Boston and then offered testimony to the Joint Committee on Transportation in defense of his new legislation.
Madaro said the two bills, H3527 – an act relative to congestion relief in Eastie and H3528 – an act relative to congestion in East Boston, address the serious traffic issues that have persisted, and will continue to exist in Eastie.
“Drivers seeking to commute from the North Shore to downtown Boston, or from the South Shore and Boston to Logan Airport, face one significant geographic barrier: the Boston Harbor,” said Madaro. “To traverse this body of water by car, drivers only have a total of four lanes in each direction to utilize, spread between three tunnels: the Sumner and Callahan tunnels, and the Ted Williams Tunnel. To pass through either, drivers inevitably end up in my community of East Boston. Right up until the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, East Boston was at the epicenter of a steadily escalating traffic problem. Growing commuter traffic from the North Shore into Boston, coupled with increased vehicular travel to and from Logan Airport, including a significant rise in TNCs, led to a traffic crisis in East Boston, with congestion backing up onto residential streets. These bills seek to address these traffic issues through studying the problem and attempting to divert traffic from peak hours.”
Madaro said H3528 would instruct MassDOT to conduct a traffic study of the Eastie area, including Logan Airport, the Sumner, Callahan, and Williams Tunnels, and wider Route 1A corridor in consultation with local municipalities, agencies, and other stakeholders. MassDOT would be tasked with determining the root causes of congestion, including increased traffic from Logan Airport, increased TNC rides, increased commuter traffic, and increased vehicles from new local residential and commercial developments. This study would be directed toward the development of recommendations to alleviate traffic conditions, including improved and expanded subway, regional commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and other mobility modes.
“Complementing this study, H3527 seeks to begin addressing this congestion problem concretely by implementing a congestion pricing pilot for the Sumner, Ted Williams, and Callahan Tunnels,” said Madaro. “This legislation would implement a temporary congestion pricing pilot for these tunnels, offering riders who commute during off-peak hours a discount of at least 25 percent.”
Madaro said in forming this pilot, he opted to pursue discounts for drivers traveling during off-peak hours, instead of price increases during peak hours, to avoid penalizing workers who do not have work flexibility in their schedule.
“We recognize that many such commuters are working-class individuals and that the nature of many jobs in fields such as the service industry, custodial work, construction, and others, have set hours that do not allow for changes in commuting time,” he said. “With the rise of remote and flexible in-person work during the pandemic, our hope is that this will be an attractive option to more and more workers.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Madaro said the rapidly growing congestion issues Eastie was experiencing suddenly came to a halt. The pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, shift to remote work for downtown office workers, and decline in air travel meant a decline in the amount of congestion Eastie was seeing on its streets and major highways.
However, Madaro said while this temporary relief has been welcome, in spite of the circumstances, he knows that it won’t last forever.
“Over the past year, when a rise in vaccinations and drop in COVID cases led to commuters gradually returning to the city and travelers to the airport, we noted rising traffic levels trending back toward congestion as usual,” he said. “As unlikely as it may seem now, we know that this pandemic will one day end, and that much of this congestion will, without any changes, gradually return to the same levels as it did pre-March 2020. This is why it is important that we act now, to both understand the root causes of the congestion we experienced, and also to study and implement the best ways to relieve it, through public transit and behavioral shifts towards off-peak travel.”
In the end Madaro said his two bills filed will help ensure that as Boston continues to re-open, commuters are returning in a way that leaves Eastie’s streets safer and less congested than before.
“I ask that the committee report these bills out favorably,” he said.