Since MassDOT took down the Sumner Tunnel toll booths as part the All Electronic Tolling (AET) project and
reopening the plaza to vehicular traffic in May 2017, resident have endured a traffic nightmare. The road reconfigurations have led to long queues entering the tunnel and backups that extend out into neighborhood side streets.
It’s no secret in the neighborhood that traffic here has gotten a worse, not better, as a result of MassDOT’s AET program and state traffic engineers have tried in vain to correct for over a year.
Many residents have reported late arrivals to work, being late to drop their children off to school and general frustration over trying to navigate Eastie’s streets during the morning commute.
Again, Eastie’s three elected officials, Rep. Adrian Madaro, Sen. Joseph Boncore and City Councilor Lydia Edwards are calling for a community-wide meeting so MassDOT can update residents on current plans to address the traffic.
The three officials hope that there is a plan to address the traffic woes in Eastie before the start of the school year when there is a significant spike in traffic in the neighborhood.
“We write to you once again expressing our frustration and disappointment with the traffic patterns at the Sumner Tunnel Toll Plaza,” the three officials wrote in a joint letter to MassDOT Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “The current status of this project is unacceptable. It has become a major quality of life issue for residents of East Boston, causing a significant increase in traffic congestion, commute time, and pollution levels. The Department of Transportation must take swift, comprehensive action to remedy the situation.”
In September 2017 hundreds of Eastie residents voiced their disappointment with the whole toll plaza project at a community meeting. From inadequate traffic studies to poorly attended community meetings before the AET went into effect, residents said more could have been done and more community input given before construction began. Some also accused the state agency of trying to shoehorn the AET program, that has worked on the MassPike, into a dense urban area. In places where removing toll booths increased the speed of traffic and decreased gridlock, like the Allston/Brighton, the removal of the Sumner Tunnel tolls has had the complete opposite effect.
Residents at the meeting said MassDOT failed to recognize that Eastie’s toll plaza is unique in that it is situated smack dab in the middle of a residential and commercial neighborhood. Unlike the Mass Pike tolls, the toll plaza here includes pedestrian traffic, neighborhood traffic as well as North Shore traffic coming down Route 1A. The plaza is bordered by homes, businesses and neighborhood side streets. So MassDOT’s goal of increasing traffic flow and volume for Route 1A commuters has had hugely negative effect on the neighborhood as side streets have become completely gridlocked during the morning commute.
In November 2017 MassDOT reported that crews were continuing with roadways reconstruction operations at the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel and expected that the traffic pattern would be adjusted so that vehicles traveling into the Sumner Tunnel would be closer to the median area meaning a straighter approach into the tunnel.
At the time MassDOT officials thought this would solve some of Eastie’s traffic problems. “During the redesign planning phase, MassDOT officials assured the East Boston community that – new traffic patterns would result in a safer, smoother, and more efficient commute,” said Madaro, Boncore and Edwards in the joint letter. “The results, however, have been far worse than ever imagined. Residential streets are congested on a daily basis. Traffic is appearing in areas where it formerly never occurred. Levels of pollution are rising, and the existing gridlock carries serious implications for the maneuverability of emergency vehicles. The current conditions caused by the redesign process are detrimental to the health, safety, and quality of life for East Boston residents.”
While Madaro, Boncore and Edwards said that they recognize the ongoing efforts of MassDOT to address this issue and they are aware that engineers have been closely monitoring the situation and searching for new solutions it has now been over a year since the tolls came down and the neighborhood has yet to see improvement.
“We request that MassDOT officials hold a public meeting in East Boston to provide an update on the current status of the project and to solicit feedback,” said the electeds in the letter. “A public meeting, held at an accessible time and location, will facilitate transparency and accountability by allowing East Boston residents to get a full understanding of current conditions and the expected timeline of the project, and to submit their comments on the conditions they have been experiencing in their everyday lives. MassDOT must acknowledge the deficiencies of the current pattern and utilize the significant resources at its disposal to fix these issue expeditiously.”