Traveling between downtown Boston and East Boston, including Logan International Airport, is about to become even more of a headache.
A major, year-plus rehabilitation project in the Sumner Tunnel, which is in a state of "disrepair" 87 years after it opened as the first traffic tunnel in Massachusetts, is set to kick off Friday night.
The work will shutter the underground tunnel that runs one-way from East Boston to downtown Boston from Friday night through Monday morning for three dozen upcoming weekends, then for four continuous months next year, and then for another series of weekends in late 2023.
Instead of cruising underneath Boston Harbor to get from East Boston or the airport to the city center and points north and west, the thousands of motorists who use the tunnel on a given day will be rerouted to the Ted Williams Tunnel or on a winding detour into Revere and Chelsea.
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“I think it’s going to be a bloody disaster,” said commuter Kathleen Cappuccio. “I sat in so much traffic in the tunnel, so with Sumner being closed I can’t even imagine just how bad that’s going to be, frankly.”
“I work in the North End and right now I do two trips because I drop my kids in the morning at school, I go to work, then I drive back to pick them up, and then I have to go back. So I use the tunnel twice a day,” said East Boston resident Daniel Monteroca. “It’s going to be crazy for me.”
The $135-million restoration project is set to provide upgrades to its fire and ventilation systems, better lighting, smoother surfaces, and improve cellphone, GPS and radio service inside the tunnel.
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“Our customers… they will not be happy,” said Boston Airport Cab owner Abdul Kader.
Kader said he understands the need for repairs, but spending more time stuck in traffic and with today’s gas prices, it's putting a lot of strain on his business.
All he hopes for is that all other routes will stay open.
“Please open Williams tunnel for us totally. Please do not in the next three days [carry out] any construction work so we can go in out and in very easily,” he pleaded.
Both other underground motor vehicle tunnels spindling out of East Boston -- the eastbound Callahan Tunnel that runs parallel to the Sumner and the both-directions Ted Williams Tunnel that winds toward the Massachusetts Turnpike in South Boston -- will remain open.
Alternate routes are set 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 those headed for I-93 northbound will be asked to follow Route 1A north to Revere's Bell Circle Rotary, then wind through Chelsea and over the Tobin Bridge to reach the interstate.
Whenever possible, MassDOT is urging travelers to turn to public transit rather than driving along detour routes. Options for commuters include the blue and silver MBTA lines, ferries and water taxis.
But drivers should buckle up because they will be putting up with an unpleasant stretch of heightened congestion and longer rides.
The project kicks off June 10, the first of 36 weekends -- excluding holidays -- in which the tunnel will close at 11 p.m. Friday night and remain offline until 5 a.m. Monday morning. MassDOT will completely close the Sumner for four months between May and September 2023 in the project's second phase, then shutter it for a still-unspecified number of weekends in the fall and winter of next year in phase three.
That approach mirrors a strategy the MBTA has embraced in recent years, imposing more concentrated periods of inconvenience to complete projects in a shorter timeframe than would be possible with more limited overnight or weekend work.
Closing the Sumner for 40 weekends rather than for four continuous months next year would extend the project by 10 more months, MassDOT has estimated.
Issues in the Sumner that need addressing are numerous. The route features exposed rebar, chipped concrete, broken lights, cracked walls and a deteriorating road surface, and ventilation, drainage, security and fire suppression systems all need to be updated to modern code standards, MassDOT says.
MassDOT has said the Sumner Tunnel is "well beyond patches and repairs: the only way to keep it in service is with a top-to-bottom restoration."