Sumner Tunnel Closure Set for Next Week

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

In just one week’s time, on Wednesday, July 5, the Sumner Tunnel closure is set to begin lasting through August 31, and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) are making it clear — be prepared for significant impacts.

The tunnel, which is approaching 100 years old, has been undergoing work for some time now as part of a project to replace or repair things like its ceilings, walls, arch, and roadway surface and make life safety upgrades.

Now with a lengthy closure rapidly approaching, residents should be preparing for what MassDOT’s Chief of Staff for the Highway Division, Jim Kersten, called a significant amount of impact during a Public Information Meeting on Tuesday, June 20.

“When you take out one of the four main vehicular routes into the city — there is going to be a significant amount of impact from that,” said Kersten.

Although there will be significant impacts due to this closure, MassDOT has been hard at work trying to mitigate those impacts and has attempted to do so through working groups.

“To build our mitigation plan and to really minimize impacts as best as possible, we kind of took the approach that we don’t know best. So we took users from many different categories and created working groups,” said Kersten.

These working groups included Public Safety and Traffic, Transit Issues/Users/Mobility, Communication and Outreach, and Business, all of which met weekly and would report to a Principals Group.

“So everyone knew all the information that was going on, and really we took the approach of leave no stone unturned. We really wanted to look and evaluate everything to manage this project as best we can,” said Kersten.

According to Kersten, one of the biggest concerns MassDOT has heard about this closure relates to Public Safety. In an effort to manage public safety impacts, a Sumner Tunnel Contingency Plan has been created.

“This scenario planning looks into every possible scenario that we could think of and what to do if that arises,” said Kersten.

Further, in East Boston, two ambulances will be added in the day shift, two in the night shift, and one in the overnight shift. “We’re going to continue to evaluate that just to make sure we have adequate coverage throughout the closure,” said Kersten.

Obviously, one of the major impacts of this closure will be traffic, and MassDOT is asking those who can to “ditch the drive” in favor of other modes of transportation.

“We are encouraging everyone — if you can — to get out of your car,” said Kersten.

In asking residents to get out of their cars, several mitigation tactics are being used to quell the closure’s impacts.

Some of these mitigation strategies include making blue line service fare-free and discounting parking at blue line lots to $2 a day. Trains are also slated to run at six-minute intervals during rush hours.

Moreover, per MassDOT’s website, other mitigation strategies specific to East Boston include additional free parking near Wood Island Station, adding another train to the blue line during midday, continuing ferry service from Lewis Mall to Long Wharf, which will be fare-free, and more.

As Kersten acknowledged, there will be those who cannot get out of their cars, and for those folks, tolls will be discounted for the Tobin Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel for those in the Resident Discount Program.

Further, mitigation strategies for those looking to get to Logan Airport were also discussed. Some of these strategies include the airport shuttles from Airport Station, increasing frequency by 66%, and the Silver line buses using a State Police emergency ramp during highly congested times.

Also, those who take water transport to Logan Airport will get a ticket to skip to the front of the line for checkpoint screening.

In addition to these mitigation strategies, tools are being offered for those with flexibility in planning their car trips in advance. These tools which can help find the best times to leave for a trip are Mass511 which can be found at — — and a Travel Time Dashboard, which is slated to go live on July 5.

A question and answer session began following the presentation during last week’s meeting. While this meeting was seemingly open to whoever registered, there were some questions pertaining specifically to East Boston.

One of these questions concerned the reduction of parking prices at blue line lots and how it might affect parking, specifically at Orient Heights station. The resident asked if it would be possible for the city to beef up patrols for ticketing or if the streets could be made residential only.

“The parking lot somedays is completely full — my concern is that people will come down and try to take advantage of the parking situation and find the lot full and then park on the residential streets surrounding the area,” said the resident.

Kersten mentioned he would pass this feedback along to the city and advised against doing what the resident has suggested people coming to park in Orient Heights might do and avoid the area entirely since the parking prices are the same throughout all blue line lots.

Concerns were also raised regarding the process of ambulances getting through traffic if someone in East Boston is having a severe medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke and needs to be transported into Boston.

“If we do have a patient like that, we do have the ability — one — to give on the radio — when we’re talking to the hospital — give an advanced notification but also — if need be — if we need some help getting some traffic pulled we can get on and make that request,” said James Hooley, Chief of Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

Hooley also mentioned that EMS will be tracking its transports and are trying to always keep two trucks available in East Boston.

While the Sumner Tunnel closure will surely have some significant impacts, it is clear that everyone involved is doing their best to make it go as smoothly as possible.

For all information about the closure, you can visit, and if you have questions, there is a project email — [email protected] — and hotline at (508) 510-2920.

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