Traffic Impact: Summer Tunnel Weekend Closures To Start Next Month

Work to completely overhaul the decaying Sumner Tunnel will begin next month with weekend closures scheduled to begin on June 10 and last for 36 weeks. The work in the tunnel will culminate with a full closure of the Sumner for four months between May 2023 and September 2023.

At a virtual meeting last week, MassDOT officials said the MBTA still has not made a decision whether or not they make the Blue Line free for Eastie residents during the planned four-month closure of the tunnel.

While residents have been clamoring for free T service during the closure, some have begun circulating petitions calling for ferry service during the tunnel’s planned closure.

Despite MassDot’s promise of a comprehensive traffic plan many residents are weary of state officials downplaying the huge traffic impacts that will befall the neighborhood during the weekend closures and subsequent full closure next year.

Eastie resident Joshua Schmidt started an online petition calling on Rep.  Adrian Madaro and Sen. Lydia Edwards to put pressure on the MBTA and keep the ferry that was running between Eastie and Boston during the recent Blue Line project as a transportation option for residents during the Sumner closures.

 “The MBTA has provided two options for transportation downtown from East Boston:  shuttle buses from either Maverick or Airport Stations or the ferry from Lewis Wharf to the Long Wharf,” said Schmidt. “The MBTA is only intending to use these options for the extent that the Blue Line underwater tunnel undergoes maintenance (until May 15). With the upcoming closure of the Sumner Tunnel on weekends starting June 2022 and with a complete closure from May 2023 to September 2023, we urge the (State) and City of Boston to keep the ferry option open for East Boston residents to relieve the extreme pressure expected to be placed on the roads and subway systems.  During the first week of operation, the MBTA ferry has received a lot of positive feedback and provides the frequency the people need for a morning commute.”

The online petition, which can be found at www.change.org/p/bring-the-mbta-ferry-option-back-for-eastie-residents has already gained 1,245 signatures with a goal of reaching 1,500 signatures.

Schmidt said a more formal petition will be sent to MassDOT, Rep. Madaro and Sen. Edwards once the 1,500 signatures are reached.

Residents have also been lobbying for the T to be free throughout the duration of the tunnel’s closure. Residents have argued that the inconvenience posed by such a closure, planned between May 2023 to September 2023, will have a significant impact on commuters and lead to more traffic and gridlock during the commute.

In order to attract more people to ride public transportation during the tunnel’s closure and cut down the number of cars driving through neighborhood streets, residents have asked MassDOT to advocate for the community and pressure the MBTA to make the Blue Line free.

MassDOT is anticipating significant traffic impacts that come with shutting down a tunnel that was handling 39,000 vehicles per day pre-COVID.

The MBTA has agreed to hold off any routine or scheduled maintenance for any of the systems that would be impacted as a result of the Sumner closure. When the tunnel is shut down for a weekend it will be from 11 pm Friday to 5 am Monday morning and shouldn’t impact any of the MBTA bus or train operations during the week.

However, when MassDOT shuts down the tunnel for 16 weeks in 20023 rush hour will be affected. It will be during this full closure when MassDOT will work closely with the MBTA to see what can be done to reach out and provide a better service for people and encourage them to take the T.

Through some traffic modeling conducted by MassDOT the department projects that 45% of motorists will use the Ted William Tunnel during the closure; 34% will use the Tobin Bridge; and 19 percent will go the Bell Circle route to Route 16 and down towards Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown.

However, at past meetings MassDOT officials 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.

The proposed Sumner Tunnel Centennial 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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