By John Lynds
MassDOT announced that cash at the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza will no longer be accepted on Friday, October 28 as All Electronic Tolling (AET) will begin on that day.
“In preparation for the transition, MassDOT will host a Sumner Tunnel Entrance Reconstruction and Toll Plaza Demolition Project Public Information Meeting to provide information about the proposed design of the tunnel entrance and toll booth elimination which will begin at a later date,” MassDOT said in a statement last week.
The meeting will be held on Monday, October 17 at 6:30 p.m. at East Boston High School Auditorium, 86 White Street.
Within the project overview, MassDOT will discuss the design and construction process including the timeline of the toll booth demolition process, the alternatives analysis for the design of the Sumner Tunnel entrance, and construction impacts such as traffic and noise, material disposition and other project related issues.
“This meeting will ensure that users of the Sumner Tunnel and neighboring communities are fully informed about the project and design and construction process to minimize any public inconvenience,” said MassDOT.
MassDOT added that Public comments and questions may also be submitted by email to [email protected]
The Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza was to be demolished by October 15. However, after hearing residents’ complaints that there hasn’t been enough community input on the proposed changes to the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza before going live with AET, officials decided to postpone the date.
MassDOT’s also decided to tweak some of its earlier plans for the toll plaza. The new design presented at the meeting restores the current turn on to Havre street from Route 1A. The new design eliminates the traffic light for cars attempting to enter tunnel-bound lanes from Porter Street and replaces it with a yield sign. The green space has been reconfigured from a hilled landscaped area to a flat grassy area.
The tweaked design also includes the possibility for traffic calming measures and various adjustments to islands and dotted lines.
However, the presentation was met with mixed reviews and residents on October 17 are hoping to see further changes. Eastie’s elected officials and the Mayor’s Office have been working with MassDOT to address further concerns.
MassDOT’s original proposal for the toll plaza and subsequent changes were still met with concerns over safety and feasibility of the merge for local drivers into the tunnel bound lanes.
For example, while a speed limit of 30 mph will be posted, many residents at past community meetings agreed that this is probably not feasible because cars have no reason to slow down to 30 mph if there is nothing stopping them. Compared to residential streets like Bennington street where travel at 30 mph or above is common, this stretch of road does not seem like it will be driven on at 30 mph.
There were also concerns about backups on Visconti Way stemming from difficult merge conditions into the tunnel for local motorists with a majority residents concerned because their main ways of accessing the toll plaza now can possibly be impacted by the redesign.
Concerns were also raised about inexperienced or elderly drivers who will have to merge into potentially dangerous road conditions as fast moving traffic comes down Route 1A into the tunnel.
MassDOT officials said that they do not intend to make any aspect of the toll plaza redesign worse than the current conditions and officials said this is demonstrated by cutting down from the current eight lanes of access points into the tunnel to two.
However, residents felt cutting down to two lanes will improve traffic for North Shore commuters but the state’s plan does little for local residents trying to enter the tunnel.
In fact, many have expressed concerns that the two lanes would be more dangerous because cars on the highway will be traveling at increased speeds and will not have to slow for a toll booth or local traffic trying to enter the Sumner.