Sumner Tunnel Meeting Held in Advance of Closure

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) recently hosted two public meetings to provide information on the upcoming closure of the Sumner Tunnel, which is slated to begin on July 5 and run to August 5.

The Sumner Tunnel, which was closed for two months last summer, has been undergoing work for the last couple of years as part of a design-build project that had its bid awarded in 2021.

According to Michael Drew, a Project Manager in MassDOT’s Highway Division, work completed so far includes removing and replacing the tunnel’s ceiling and overhead arch, repairing the tunnel walls, installing fireproof panels and new lights, and upgrading the tunnel’s CCTV and fire alarms.

Drew indicated that the focus of the work anticipated for this summer is on the tunnel’s deck and roadway surface.

“The deck is a structural concrete deck with steel floor beams that we’re going to be doing a rehabilitation of the structural deck and then repaving the surface for a smooth riding surface,” said Drew.

Other work anticipated for this summer includes installing new utility conduits and cables and replacing the drainage pumps, known as midriver pumps, in the middle of the tunnel.

It should also be noted that after the one-month closure, Drew said, “Based off the remaining work, we’re going to determine what additional weekend closures may be needed during the end of the summer and fall, eventually finishing the contract in December of this year.”

As the meeting progressed, managing impacts became a significant topic of discussion. “We fully understand the impacts that are going to be incurred, particularly with traffic during this closure,” said Drew.

In referencing the impacts that occurred with last summer’s extended closure, Drew said, “We’re really trying to stress to the public to anticipate that type of impact again and be able to plan for it.”

Similarly to last year, working groups have been used to help plan for the closure and reduce impacts. These working groups include Public Safety and Traffic, Transit Issues/Users/Mobility, Communication and Outreach, and Business, which report to a principals group.

“It’s a structure that worked very, very well for last summer’s closure, and we’ve been implementing and working together with these working groups for a number of weeks and months leading up to this closure,” said Drew.

An important aspect of managing impacts will be coordination with construction projects in the area. For example, Drew talked about limiting maintenance activity to emergency work or scheduling them during off-peak hours.

Moreover, Drew indicated a command center would be set up to monitor the closure and surrounding areas in case adjustments are needed.

Further, impact management includes plans for real-time traffic monitoring. Drew emphasized that the project contract includes incentives and disincentives to comply with the project timeline.

Concerning public safety, which Drew described as “one of the most critical aspects of the closure,” plans are in place for increased ambulatory service through extra ambulances and shifts. Response times are also slated to be monitored.

Also, a Sumner Tunnel Contingency plan has been developed, so there are actions in place in case of issues.

Regarding managing travel impacts, officials are once again urging folks to ditch the drive and use other means of transportation. There will be discounts for alternative travel options for those who can get out of their cars.

For those traveling to or from East Boston and the North End, the Blue Line, which no longer has slow zones, will be free throughout the closure. Parking in Blue Line lots and garages will be reduced to $2 daily. There will also be additional free parking near Wood Island Station, and an additional train will be added to the Blue Line midday.

Further, fare-free service will be available for those on key Chelsea Bus lines: routes 111, 112, 114, 116, 117, and Silver Line 3. The East Boston Ferry will also be free.

For those traveling to or from the North Shore, there are also some incentives to get out of your car. For example, Lynn Ferry riders can use a Zone 1A fare—$2.40—and free parking will be at the city-owned lot near Blossom Street Pier.

Also, the MBTA will be operating Winthrop Ferry Service, which is $2.40 for a one-way trip.

Travelers to or from Logan Airport can ride on Logan Express at a 25% discount if they order a ticket online or for free for riders under 17 years old.

Moreover, a Logan Airport stop will be added to the Winthrop Ferry, and those who take water transportation can skip to the front of the checkpoint screening line.

Finally, suppose someone is unable to take alternative transportation. In that case, there will be discounted tolls on the Tobin Bridge and in the Ted Williams Tunnel for those in the resident discount program. Also, will provide historical and real-time data during the closure to provide travel time information.

Following the presentation, attendees were given time to ask questions. One attendee asked if MassDOT had contacted employers and asked them to allow employees to work from home during the closure.

Drew indicated they are doing outreach to those in the immediate area of the tunnel and regionally so employees or employers could potentially make adjustments.

Another attendee asked if MassDOT has looked at options for travelers going from the North to the South Shore, as they felt that public transportation was more expensive and took longer.

In response, Drew said, “As far as the scope of this project, what we’ve really been trying to concentrate on is alleviating the congestion that’s going to occur from the North Shore and the local vicinity of East Boston, Winthrop, Revere, et cetera, getting into Downtown Boston.”

“So we’ve been concentrating on basically those lengths with the Blue Line, the Commuter Rail, and that type of thing that will be affected.”

An attendee also asked about the recent uptick in trucks getting stuck at the Sumner Tunnel. Drew assured those in attendance that the clearance remains the same. He also indicated that additional signage would be added, and overheight detectors are being added to Route 1A.

Finally, an attendee asked about the exit off Route 1A heading to Route 145 sometimes being closed and did not understand why it was being done.

Drew indicated that it is part of the State Police’s procedure to flush traffic out from Logan Airport and that they are trying to improve communication so that travelers can be notified via its virtual message signs when it happens.

To learn more about the closure, visit the project webpage at To ask questions, email [email protected] or call the project hotline at (508)-510-2920.

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