The Boston tunnel project will have a significant impact on traffic

Traveling between downtown Boston and East Boston, including Logan International Airport, is about to get more and more difficult.

State transportation officials are preparing next month to begin a major one-year rehabilitation project at the Sumner Tunnel, which is in “disrepair” 87 years after it opened as Massachusetts’ first traffic tunnel.

Work will close the one-way underground tunnel from East Boston to downtown Boston from Friday night through Monday morning for the next thirty weekends, then for four straight months next year, and then for another series of weekends in late 2023 .

Instead of sailing under Boston Harbor to get from East Boston or the airport to downtown and head north and west, the thousands of motorists who use the tunnel on a given day will be redirected to the Ted Williams Tunnel or on a winding detour to Revere and Chelsea.

Tunneling Sumner, MassDOT warns in its official project summary, “It goes far beyond patches and repairs: the only way to keep it in service is top-down restoration.”

To achieve this, drivers and residents of nearby neighborhoods will be required to endure an annoying stretch of heavy congestion and longer rides.

“In our experience, doing this in these windows with a labor intensive period allows us not to extend this for much longer periods and a more consistent inconvenience,” Transportation Secretary Jamie Tesler said Thursday. “It’s a much more intense period of time. You will undoubtedly test people’s patience during it, but we think this is the best way to accomplish this with the least amount of disruption to people.”

The $160 million project will begin on June 10, the first of 36 weekends — excluding holidays — where the tunnel will close at 11 p.m. Friday night and remain offline until 5 a.m. Monday. MassDOT will shut down Sumner entirely for four months between May and September 2023 in the second phase of the project, then shut it down for an unspecified number of weekends in the fall and winter of next year in the third.

This approach mirrors a strategy the MBTA has adopted in recent years, which imposes more focused periods of inconvenience to complete projects in a shorter time frame than is possible with limited work overnight or weekend.

MassDOT estimates that closing Sumner for 40 weekends instead of four straight months next year will extend the project for another 10 months.

Whenever possible, MassDOT will urge travelers to turn to public transportation instead of driving along detours. The Sumner Tunnel project is also creating pressure on MBTA, which will replace Blue Line trains between Wonderland and Orient Heights with shuttle buses from May 22 to June 8 to repair the Suffolk Downs pedestrian bridge.

The other two underground car tunnels that run from east Boston – the eastbound Callahan Tunnel running parallel to the Sumner River and the Ted Williams Tunnel in both directions towards the Massachusetts Turnpike in south Boston – will remain open.

Alternate routes have been designated for a flood of additional traffic due to detours. Drivers traveling downtown from Logan or other parts of East Boston will be diverted to the Ted Williams Tunnel, while drivers heading northbound to I-93 will be required to follow Route 1A north to the Bell Circle Roundabout for River, then wind across Chelsea and over Tobin Bridge for access. to the highway.

When the Sumner Tunnel is closed for an upcoming major rehabilitation project, state transportation officials will redirect motorists heading to I-93 heading north to Revere and then Chelsea to get to the highway via Tobin Bridge. (Courtesy of MassDOT via SHNS)

The plan would put “a lot of pressure on the Ted Williams tunnel,” said director of strategic and business planning for the Massachusetts Port Authority, Joel Barrera. He added that MassDOT plans to put tow trucks on the tunnel to ensure that any accident that could slow traffic is quickly eliminated.

“We will rely heavily on the Ted Williams tunnel,” Parreira said at Masport’s board meeting on Thursday. “At the end of the day, people will have to travel farther and likely through more crowded tunnels and bridges.”

The issues in Sumner that need to be addressed are numerous. MassDOT says the track features exposed rebar, chipped concrete, broken lights, cracked walls, deteriorated road surface, and ventilation, drainage, security, and fire suppression systems all in need of updating to modern code standards.

Parreira said the rehabilitation would implement “modern and good connectivity across the city center” with better lighting as well as radio, mobile phone and GPS signals.

“This is a good and necessary project,” he said, noting that the tunnel is nearly a century old. “There’s a lot of deferred maintenance on it. Anyone who drives through it understands what kind of damage condition this is and would appreciate that the Secretary and MassDOT are taking a bullet to push this $160 million project forward.”

The project is one of hundreds of projects that will be funded in MassDOT’s 2023-2027 Capital Investment Plan. Officials released a draft version of the spending blueprint this week, calling for $110 million to be directed toward the Sumner Tunnel business in fiscal year 2023.

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