East Boston residents got the first taste of what it is going to be like living with the scheduled weekend closures of the Sumner Tunnel for the next 36 weeks that will culminate in a full closure of the tunnel for four months next spring.
Gridlock on Saturday and Sunday in Eastie, Chelsea and Revere was horrendous as traffic heading into Boston was rerouted to the Ted Williams Tunnel and Tobin Bridge.
This week, Mayor Michelle Wu sent a letter to MassDOT administrators that was signed by Eastie’s elected officials, as well as elected officials in Revere, demanding more meaningful mitigation as the project progresses like a free Blue Line for residents as well as continuing ferry service between Eastie and Boston.
“With thirty-six weekend closures and a continuous four-month closure next year, this project will have major impacts on the people who live and work in the neighborhoods that rely on the tunnel,” wrote Wu in the letter. “The impact will not only be felt on the highways, but also on local streets near the Sumner and along alternative routes. Travel between East Boston and Downtown will be disrupted, and the resulting congestion is likely to impact emergency response and bus service. In addition to the transportation impacts, the nature of the construction work is likely to be disruptive to residents in East Boston and the North End who live near the tunnel.”
While Wu said her Administration and her elected colleagues representing the neighborhood appreciate the mitigation measures MassDOT has already committed to–including greening and beautifying the tunnel portals, extending toll discounts for tunnel communities to the Tobin Bridge, and undertaking efforts to minimize noise, vibration, dust, and pests–more needs to be done.
“However, we believe that additional steps are needed to address the impacts of this project on our neighborhoods,” wrote Wu. “Alongside toll discounts, MassDOT should direct project mitigation funds to the MBTA to provide free fares on the Blue Line whenever the tunnel is closed. This will encourage people to use transit rather than drive on alternate routes and will
reduce the financial strain on residents. Fare gates should be opened along the entire line so that residents are not burdened with enrolling in a special pass program.”
Wu also called for resuming the ferry service that successfully ran between Eastie and Boston during a two week closure of the Blue Line by the MBTA in May.
“This service, which was successfully piloted during the recent Blue Line disruptions, should be continued throughout the upcoming tunnel closures,” she wrote. “We support the $1 million in funding secured by the Massachusetts Legislature to expand ferry service. Offering weekday and weekend ferry service prior to the full closure next summer will help people adjust their travel patterns to incorporate water transportation and can serve as a “dry run” for potential permanent service.”
Wu also called for MassDOT to ensure adequate capacity on the Blue Line, Silver Line, and 116/117 bus.
“MassDOT and the MBTA should assess capacity of the Blue and Silver Lines to handle increased ridership and increased congestion along the Silver Line and 116/117 bus routes,” wrote Wu. “A plan should be put in place to increase capacity if needed, especially during the full shutdown in 2023. Many residents of East Boston, Chelsea, and Revere rely on early morning service on the 116/117 bus to get to work, often by transferring to the subway at Haymarket at the start of service. These buses will be rerouted during the closure and the MBTA should make schedule adjustments to ensure that timely connections can still be made.”
To further encourage MBTA ridership Wu called on MassDOT’s parking lot near the Wood Island station to be opened for use by East Boston residents. In addition, MassDOT should look for other opportunities to secure parking near Blue Line stations.
Wu would also like to see MassDOT work with Massport to reduce airport car traffic.
“Reducing car trips to and from Logan Airport will help manage congestion in the Ted Williams Tunnel,” Wu wrote. “We would like to see more substantial collaboration with Massport, including outreach, traveler and employee incentives, and enhanced transit, including Logan Express service.”
Aside from MassDOT focicials at previous community meetings leading up to the start of the project that MassDOT is “working with” emergency agencies and “planning” for emergency situations no one in Eastie has seen a concrete plan. At a press availability with MassDOT officials last week there were calls for Eastie residents to be provided with a solidified plan of emergency vehicle routes, designated hospitals that will be used, and projected travel times for emergency vehicles to Downtown during rush hour when the tunnel is closed.
“We are gravely concerned about the impact of the tunnel closures on emergency response times, especially for those in need of urgent transportation to a hospital,” wrote Wu. “To address these concerns, MassDOT should share a detailed plan for ambulance access across the harbor and the steps taken to ensure that precious minutes are not lost in a medical emergency.”
Wu also called for MassDOT to fund an overnight shift for Eastie’s second EMS unit, which currently operates 16 hours/day. This will support adequate coverage when transport time for patients increases due to tunnel closure and allow proactive positioning of EMS units. Wu added that MassDOT should also establish a real-time link between the Highway Operations Center and Boston EMS dispatch to provide alerts on severe congestion or incidents in the Ted Williams Tunnel when the Sumner Tunnel is closed.
Wu’s letter was signed by State Representative’s Adrian Madaro, Jessica Giannino of Revere, Jeff Turco of Winthrop, State Senator Lydia Edwars, Boston City Councilors Gabriela Coletta and Ed Flynn and Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo.