By Barbara Taormina
MassDOT officials have some advice for commuters to Boston who worry about getting to work when the Sumner Tunnel shuts down in July for repairs: Stay home.
The City Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee met with MassDOT representatives this week to discuss the tunnel closure, which will run from July 5 to August 31. Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo, chairman of the Public Safety Subcommittee, thanked the MassDOT team for coming to Revere to discuss concerns.
“We have a couple hundred thousand cars a day that come through our city,” said Rizzo. “Traffic is an important issue for us.”
Neil Boudreau, a MassDOT traffic and safety administrator, warned that drivers cannot expect to just get in their cars and drive to destinations. There will be significant traffic tie ups as commuters struggle to find alternative routes into Boston. Boudreau suggested that, if possible, people should stay home and work remotely, or try to change their work schedules so they are not on the roads during peak rush hours.
If staying away is not an option, Boudreau said, there are other choices. MassDOT is pushing alternative modes of travel or public transportation, and there are incentives to draw commuters onto trains, buses and ferries. Service on the MBTA’s Blue Line will be free for the duration of the closure, and parking at T stations will either be free or the fee will be reduced. Fares on the commuter rail will be significantly reduced as will fares on ferries. “We’re making alternative modes cheap and attractive to entice people to make those changes,” Boudreau told committee members.
MassDOT came with a PowerPoint presentation that showed the scope of the work scheduled for the tunnel. Built in the 1930’s, the tunnel is essentially a long thin building lying on its side inside a tube. The plan this summer is to replace the arched ceiling with precast concrete sections. Next summer, work will begin on replacing the deck.
Boudreau said contractors have been offered financial incentives to finish work ahead of schedule and return the roadway to the public. There are also penalties if they go beyond the completion date.
“I think back to the Big Dig, when 12 tons fell off the ceiling. There’s a quality control issue with workmanship. I’m assuming there’s a vigilant plan to make sure accidents like that don’t happen,” said Rizzo.
“We have inspectors doing oversight,” said Boudreau. “The checks and balances are there.”
Boudreau said real time traffic information will be available to drivers on road signs and digital alerts. MassDOT hopes to channel traffic to Route 1 rather than the obvious alternative route, the Ted Williams Tunnel. Traffic signals will be tweaked to keep vehicles moving, and MassDOT has coordinated with all other roadway projects in the area to ensure there’s no confusion with commuters driving into other work sites.
Ward 1 Councillor Joanne McKenna asked if the bus lane on the Tobin Bridge will be opened to traffic. She said she’s sat in traffic there and has never seen a bus in that lane. Boudreau said MassDOT has heard that message about the lane for the 111 bus and emergency vehicles but no decision has been made.
“You’re pushing Route 1 as an alternative. That’s a lot of traffic on the Revere side. I would like to believe people will take alternative modes of travel, but I think they’re going to take the bridge,” said Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti.
Rizzo responded to the idea of free rides on the Blue Line. “Revere Beach gets exceptionally crowded during the summer. This will make it even more popular and more accessible. I think, as a council, we need to think of increased safety down on the beach.”
MassDOT will send word about the Tobin Bridge bus lane as soon as a decision is finalized.
Boudreau said MassDOT is continuing public meetings to ensure everyone affected is aware of the tunnel restoration project. “The message is your commute will be impacted. Consider different modes of travel and give yourself more time to get there,” he said.