BOSTON (SHNS) – As drivers return to the Sumner Tunnel on Friday after a two-month shutdown, they can expect to see brighter energy-efficient lighting, new ceiling arches, improved ventilation, and stormwater pumps that can withstand more intense storms.
Construction crews removed deteriorated concrete that was deemed structurally problematic along the major artery to East Boston and Boston Logan International Airport during this summer’s closure, Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver told reporters Wednesday afternoon following a roughly five-minute tour of several hundred feet of the tunnel with Gov. Maura Healey, Transportation Secretary Gina Fiandaca and other officials.
“The intent of this project was to extend the life of this tunnel by at least 50 years,” Gulliver said near the North End exit of the Sumner Tunnel, as crews focused on final clean-up efforts. “We’re very confident that this tunnel is going to be in very good shape for years and years to come.”
The Sumner Tunnel should reopen by 5 a.m. Friday at the latest, and Gulliver said drivers “are just going to be really impressed with the results when they come through.”
While Healey lauded the initial phase of the restoration project for being completed in time for Labor Day weekend, motorists can expect eight weekend closures throughout the rest of the year, including in two weeks, Gulliver said. Officials are still finalizing the schedule for weekend tunnel closures in 2024, he said.
Another two-month closure of the Sumner Tunnel is slated for next summer when crews will focus on repairs to the driving deck, which Gulliver said includes repaving the roads and fixing any deteriorating concrete underneath.
“As we anticipate next summer, what we’ve learned through this experience will help us only to shorten the time that we’re going to need to deal with the deck and ultimately make things go as quickly and as smoothly as possible,” Healey said as she echoed Gulliver, who noted the 24/7 work on the tunnel since July 5 reflected years of planning.
As he walked side by side with Healey into the tunnel, Gulliver pointed out the structural changes to the ceiling. The tunnel and its new archways should feel “roomier” to drivers, Gulliver said. The governor agreed.
On a state webpage explaining this summer’s closure, officials said “top-to-bottom restoration” was needed to install new overhead arches, fireproof boards on tunnel walls, lighting, cables and utilities. Structural and safety issues plaguing the Sumner Tunnel included crumbling concrete, rusted reinforcements, cracked wall panels and broken lights.
Gulliver said the environmental resilience of the Sumner Tunnel is “vastly improved” with new stormwater pumps that can handle bigger storms that could hit Massachusetts.
House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz of the North End attended the tour alongside Rep. Adrian Madaro and Sen. Lydia Edwards, both of East Boston, and Sen. Brendan Crighton of Lynn, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation.
In a surprise announcement Monday, the Healey administration said Fiandaca, who served four years as transportation commissioner under former Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, will depart from her post on Sept. 11 and stay in an advisory role for the rest of the year.
Fiandaca did not answer multiple questions Wednesday about why she is leaving and where she is headed next. Fiandaca was not fired, the governor told reporters.
Healey said that Fiandaca chose to “step down and to move on after completing what have been really important priorities,” such as the hiring of Phillip Eng as general manager of the MBTA, seeking federal funding for multiple transportation projects, implementing an immigrant driver’s license law, and helping with the Sumner Tunnel project.
Undersecretary of Transportation Monica Tibbits-Nutt, who also attended Wednesday’s tour, will serve as acting transportation secretary, the administration said.
“We look forward to supporting her in the next chapter, as I know she will continue to support us,” Healey said Wednesday. “Secretary Fiandaca has done great service to the commonwealth. We thank her for that service, and we look forward to moving forward with continued leadership with the DOT.”
At the press conference, Fiandaca called the Sumner Tunnel project an example of “true collaboration and partnership” across MassDOT, including the MBTA, which offered discounted and free fare options for riders on the T, commuter rail and ferry as part of the state’s “Ditch the Drive” campaign surrounding the tunnel closure.
Normal fares will resume for MBTA commuters on Friday.
“Our crews here have worked around the clock alongside contractors with J.F. White, and they’ve set the example,” Fiandaca said. “The men and women of MassDOT set the example on managing the most impactful project that we’ve seen in this commonwealth in a very long time. For them, I want to just say, ‘well done,’ and I want to say, ‘thank you.'”