Elected Officials Demand Better Mitigation for Sumner Tunnel Toll Project

Local residents got the first taste of what it is going to be like living with the scheduled weekend closures of the Sumner Tunnel for the next 36 weeks that will culminate in a full closure of the tunnel for four months next spring. Gridlock on Saturday and Sunday in Boston, Chelsea and Revere was horrendous as traffic heading into Boston was rerouted to the Ted Williams Tunnel and Tobin Bridge. This week, Mayor Michelle Wu sent a letter to MassDOT administrators that was signed by elected officials, as well as elected officials in Revere, demanding more meaningful mitigation as the project progresses like a free Blue Line for residents as well as continuing ferry service between Eastie and the North End. “With thirty-six weekend closures and a continuous four-month closure next year,  this project will have major impacts on the people who live and work in the  neighborhoods that rely on the tunnel,” wrote Wu in the letter. “The impact will not only be felt on the  highways, but also on local streets near the Sumner and along alternative routes.  Travel between East Boston and Downtown will be disrupted, and the resulting  congestion is likely to impact emergency response and bus service. In addition to  the transportation impacts, the nature of the construction work is likely to be  disruptive to residents in East Boston and the North End who live near the tunnel.” While Wu said her Administration and her elected colleagues representing the neighborhood appreciate the mitigation measures MassDOT has already committed to–including greening and beautifying the tunnel portals, extending toll discounts for tunnel communities to the Tobin Bridge, and undertaking efforts to minimize noise, vibration, dust, and pests–more needs to be done. “However, we believe that additional steps are needed to  address the impacts of this project on our neighborhoods,” wrote Wu. “Alongside toll discounts, MassDOT should direct project mitigation funds to the MBTA to provide free fares on the Blue Line whenever the tunnel is closed. This will encourage people to use transit rather than drive on alternate routes and will  reduce the financial strain on residents. Fare gates should be opened along the entire line so that residents are not burdened with enrolling in a special pass program.” Wu also called for resuming the ferry service that successfully ran between Eastie and the North End during a two week closure of the Blue Line by the MBTA in May. “This service, which was successfully piloted during the recent Blue Line disruptions, should be continued throughout the upcoming tunnel closures,” she wrote. “We support the $1 million in funding secured by the Massachusetts Legislature to expand  ferry service. Offering weekday and weekend ferry service prior to the full  closure next summer will help people adjust their travel patterns to  incorporate water transportation and can serve as a “dry run” for potential  permanent service.” To further encourage MBTA ridership Wu called on MassDOT’s parking lot near the Wood Island station to be opened for use by East Boston residents. In addition, MassDOT should look for other opportunities to secure parking near Blue Line stations. Wu would also like to see MassDOT work with Massport to reduce airport car traffic. “Reducing car trips to and  from Logan Airport will help manage congestion in the Ted Williams Tunnel,” Wu wrote. “We would like to see more substantial collaboration with Massport, including  outreach, traveler and employee incentives, and enhanced transit, including  Logan Express service.” Aside from MassDOT focicials at previous community meetings leading up to the start of the project that MassDOT is “working with” emergency agencies and “planning” for emergency situations no one has seen a concrete plan. At a press availability with MassDOT officials last week there were calls for Eastie residents to be provided with a solidified plan of emergency vehicle routes, designated hospitals that will be used, and projected travel times for emergency vehicles to Downtown during rush hour when the tunnel is closed. “We are gravely concerned about the  impact of the tunnel closures on emergency response times, especially for  those in need of urgent transportation to a hospital,” wrote Wu. “To address these concerns, MassDOT should share a detailed plan for ambulance access across the harbor and the steps taken to ensure that precious minutes are not lost in a medical  emergency.” Wu also called for MassDOT to fund an overnight shift for Eastie’s second EMS unit, which  currently operates 16 hours/day. This will support adequate coverage when transport time for patients increases due to tunnel closure and allow proactive positioning of EMS units. Wu added that MassDOT should also establish a real-time link  between the Highway Operations Center and Boston EMS dispatch to provide alerts on severe congestion or incidents in the Ted Williams Tunnel when the Sumner Tunnel is closed. Wu’s letter was signed by State Representative’s Adrian Madaro, Jessica Giannino of Revere, Jeff Turco of Winthrop, State Senator Lydia Edwars, Boston City Councilors Gabriela Coletta and Ed Flynn and Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo.

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