BOSTON (SHNS) – A bit of relief has arrived for drivers who sat in soul-crushing detoured traffic during the first weekend Sumner Tunnel closure of many planned in the coming months.
After encountering headaches during the project kickoff with Logan International Airport traffic causing a “domino effect,” state transportation officials rolled out a new strategy for subsequent weekend tunnel closures to blunt the impact of congestion.
The Department of Transportation carved out the rightmost lane of the Mass. Turnpike westbound near Logan solely for drivers going from the airport to the Ted Williams Tunnel, offering that option from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. when the Sumner Tunnel was most recently closed. Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said that step prevented airport traffic from spilling delays into East Boston. Early results were encouraging, Gulliver said.
On Sunday, June 11, the first weekend for the Sumner megaproject, 17,256 vehicles traversed the ramp from the airport to the Turnpike westbound between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., an average of 1,327 per hour. With that dedicated lane set aside on Sunday, July 10, the same 12-hour stretch saw 21,807 vehicles pass through the ramp, an average of 1,677 per hour or roughly 26 percent more.
“It kind of shares the pain, if you will, and provides a way for the congestion to be shared by the various modes,” Gulliver told MassDOT’s board on Wednesday. “If you’re going to the airport or not, you’re going to feel some of this. But what this does is it flushes the traffic out of the airport which prevents that cascading effect where traffic would back up much further past the airport and really impact all other lanes.”
The roughly $160 million project involves major work to address problems in the 87-year-old Sumner Tunnel including exposed rebar, broken lights, cracked walls, and outdated security and fire suppression systems. To do the repairs, officials plan to close the tunnel that carries traffic under the harbor from East Boston to the city center for a total of 36 weekends this year, followed by a four-month continuous shutdown next year and another series of weekends in late 2023.
Gulliver said the next weekend when the Sumner Tunnel will be open to vehicles is Labor Day weekend. “If you don’t have to be in this area at all, you should just avoid it altogether every weekend now basically until next spring,” he said.