MassDOT Gives Update on Sumner Tunnel Project

As MassDOT plans to close the Sumner Tunnel for a full four months during the summer of 2023 to complete its ‘Sumner Tunnel Centennial’ project East Boston residents are looking for mitigation in the form of a free Blue Line throughout the duration of the closure. 

At Monday night’s Harbor View Neighborhood Association meeting, MassDOT’s Steve McLaughlin said the state agency is anticipating traffic impacts with shutting down a tunnel that was handling 39,000 vehicles per day pre-COVID. 

While McLaughlin said MassDOT will coordinate with the MBTA to possibly increase Blue Line, Silver Line and bus service, residents feel the MBTA should be free to Eastie residents. 

At Monday night’s meeting many argued that Eastie has already borne the traffic burden of the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza reconfiguration project a few years back and should not be expected to bear another burden without proper mitigation. 

“When MassDOT was doing the Tobin Bridge project Chelsea had free inbound MBTA service through the Silver Line, 111 Bus, as well as the Commuter Rail,” said one resident at Monday’s meeting. “I expect that at the very least East Boston residents would have free Blue LIne service for the 16 weeks (of construction). I don’t even think that should be a question. Chelsea still had one lane open during the heaviest portions of construction (on the Tobin) and we’re gonna have nothing at the Sumner for four months. Obviously there’s the Ted Williams Tunnel option but I truly believe at the very least that East Boston residents have free MBTA service during that construction period.”

McLaughlin said MassDOT is currently working on a comprehensive traffic plan by casting a wide net in the area to let everybody know about the project and 4-month closure. 

“When we shut down the tunnel for those four months, we’ve made forecasts to where those 39,000 vehicles will go,” said McLaughlin. “Traffic will be diverted to the Ted Williams and we think about 45% of the traffic will go to the Ted Williams, about 34% will go over to the Tobin and about 19 % will go along Route 60, then down towards Rutherford Ave. or over toward Route 93.”

However, McLaughlin said about  2% of the 39,000 vehicles during the morning commute will ‘get lost in the mix” and go elsewhere. This could translate into around 800 vehicles per day ending up on Eastie streets and adding to the congestion residents have come to expect each morning before the pandemic. 

McLaughlin pledged that MassDOT wasn’t going to just put up detour signs and leave it at that.  “We will have a real time traffic management system,” he said. “These will include “time to destination” signs well north of the city on 93 and 95 and on 128. We’ll have decision signs and message boards so people can choose their routes well before they get even close to East Boston and the city. These will be portable changeable message signs.”

McLaughlin said MassDOT will try to do their best to deal with traffic issues in real time during the duration of the closure and make necessary adjustments on a daily and hourly basis. 

The proposed project consists of resurfacing the tunnel roadway including pavement and lane markings; rehabilitating the overhead arch and ceiling, including deteriorating suspended ceiling supports; restoring the historic portal facades and addressing the functional system deficiencies of the Sumner Tunnel. Once the project has been completed, the Sumner Tunnel will meet modern fire and life safety codes with fireproofing, fire standpipe, fire alarm and CCTV upgrades. The tunnel will feature new LED lighting and security systems; new utility conduits and cables under the roadway deck which will improve cell phone, GPS, and radio service inside the tunnel.

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