Why, it's a wonder they don't propose running convoys of trucks all the way down Washington Street or Beacon Street.
The state held the first of four hearings tonight on a request from Boston city officials and North End and waterfront residents to get gasoline and diesel tankers off streets like Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue unless they're making local deliveries, and instead detour around Boston by way of Rte. 128.
Representatives of local trucking companies and a statewide trucking group told state transportation officials - who have to make a recommendation to federal highway officials - that they are not motivated for one second by the extra costs of detouring 30 to 40 miles around the city but purely by safety. All those traffic lights and traffic - and pedestrians - make city roads far more safer for trucking because they keep drivers alert. Plus, the slow speeds means it's "virtually impossible" to roll a truck over at city speeds, Anne Lynch, executive director of the Massachusetts Motor Transportation Association, said.
And, they asked, who has a better fire department for dealing with any problems than Boston?
Residents and elected officials didn't buy it for a second. Imagine, one after another said, if that truck in Saugus had been in the North End instead and questioning why anybody would want to let 18-wheel trucks hauling explosive fuel on crowded city streets instead of making them travel on interstate highways designed for trucks.
"Every night they go to bed in fear that they may wake up with a disaster," City Councilor Sal LaMattina said. "This is their front yard. ... I challenge you to sit on the Rose Kennedy Greenway any night and just watch those trucks zooming by. These trucks do not belong on our local streets. God forbid (an accident happened): Many, many people would probably lose their lives."
City Transportation Commissioner Thomas Tinlin said the city initially was willing to let the trucks cut through Boston at night, but no more: A consultant's study found that when population density, number of trucks, accident rates and other factors are taken into account, letting trucks use city streets is four times as risky as 128 during the day and more than twice as risky at night (the difference is due to the increased number of people downtown during the day).
Although truckers said they were only concerned about safety, Massachusetts Chamber of Business & Industry President Debra Boronski raised the specter of increased costs for consumers, businesses being driven out of the state and home heating-oil customers being forced to wait days for deliveries if the Boston plan were adopted. Plus, Rte. 128 is already seriously over capacity, she said.
However, Joanne Prevost Anazalone, representing North End businesses, and Richard Dimino, president of A Better City, which represents large employers in Boston, both urged the state to approve the city plan. Dimino, city transportation commissioner when the Big Dig was just getting under way, said it makes no sense to put residents at risk - not to mention all the suburbanites who work downtown.
Stephanie Hogue, president of the North End/Waterfront Residents' Association, said the North End is possibly the most densely populated area in the state, with 11,000 people in less than a quarter square mile. She noted that the Saugus explosion sent gasoline into a creek, where it caught fire over a one-square mile area. The North End doesn't have a creek, but it does have highway tunnels and storm sewers, she said.
Matt Conti lives on Commercial Street, 12 feet from the truck route. "And, yes, we do live in fear," he said. "This is a public safety no brainer."
Mini LaCamera, president of the Freedom Trail Foundation, noted Beacon Street in her Back Bay neighborhood has "wonderful restrictions on trucks," and made the opposing economic argument: Why should Boston risk a $1-billion tourism industry for the convenience of truckers? "Anything to keep those tourists safe on the streets of boston is good for the city."