Sen. Joseph Boncore had plenty of time to talk about how traffic has put a stranglehold on East Boston since the state Department of Transportation took down the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza and reconfigured how cars approach and enter the tunnel.
"It's fitting that you're calling about this because I am actually sitting in that very traffic as we speak," Boncore told the News Service while attempting to drive from a breakfast in East Boston to the State House on Thursday morning.
In early May, MassDOT demolished the toll plaza at the mouth of the tunnel that links East Boston to downtown and Interstate 93, and began a project to reconstruct the roadway around the tunnel.
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"Redesigning the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza to streamline traffic into the city has actually had the opposite effect of congesting traffic further into the city and causing much more pollution," Boncore, a Winthrop Democrat who represents East Boston, said. "It's really a disservice to the residents I represent in East Boston and everyone who uses the tunnel."
On Tuesday, East Boston Rep. Adrian Madaro sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to express his "extreme frustration and disappointment" with how MassDOT has implemented the new traffic pattern.
"On a daily basis, residential streets in East Boston are entirely congested, including streets that never experienced traffic before," Madaro wrote. "While the transition to all-electronic tolls appears to have improved traffic flow in other areas throughout the state, this particular redesign has resulted in a tremendous step backwards. Simply put, East Boston residents deserve better."
On Thursday morning, MassDOT went back to the traffic pattern it had put in place immediately after the toll plaza came down about two weeks ago. The switch to a previous pattern came as "the result of public feedback and detailed traffic analysis and roadway monitoring by MassDOT," the agency said.
"They said that pattern worked for that week," Boncore said of the traffic pattern that took effect Thursday morning, as he sat in traffic. "But we'll see what happens."
"Throughout the planning stages for this project, MassDOT has worked and is continuing to work closely with the local community through public meetings, coordination meetings with elected officials, business groups and leaders, and other key stakeholders," MassDOT said in a statement. "At the request of the local community, MassDOT waited to proceed with toll plaza demolition activities at this location and incorporated public feedback into the project design through all phases of construction."
Boncore said he received more than 100 phone calls and emails about the traffic problems from constituents in East Boston last week, and he is working with Madaro and Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina to find a more palatable solution.
"We're going to continue to call on them to work on a plan that gets it right," Boncore said. "I understand when you develop a new traffic pattern it takes people a few days to adapt, you're changing 40 years of behavior. But we're three weeks in and it's only gotten worse."