State transportation officials tonight detailed their latest plans to ease the traffic woes that have beset East Boston since the Sumner Tunnel toll plaza came down in May and was replaced by a new configuration of roadways, but skeptical residents were having none of it.
At a meeting at East Boston High School, some residents even called for the return of a toll-plaza-like configuration of multiple lanes being forced to come to a near or complete stop before the tunnel entrance, because when that was in place, it wouldn't take them 45 minutes to get from one side of the narrow neighborhood to the other.
"That wasn't broke, but you 'fixed' it," one angry resident said. "Go back to the drawing board and redo it!" another said to applause from the audience of roughly 75 residents.
State transportation officials quickly rejected the idea of bringing back something like a toll plaza because the old one had the highest crash rate of any toll plaza in the state.
Instead, they detailed plans, to go into effect Sept. 5, that will give East Boston residents coming off London and Porter streets and Visconti Road dedicated access to the tunnel's right lane for 19 hours a day, including the morning rush hour, which is when residents said they find themselves unable to even get off their own blocks due to neighborhoodwide gridlock. Motorists coming off Rte. 1A or out of the airport will funnel into the tunnel's left lane - and will have one of the two lanes from that side blocked off to minimize the odds of them scooting over into the "neighborhood" lane.
Between 3 and 8 p.m., when 1A and airport travel hits a peak, the blocked lane will be opened, giving 1A traffic a bit more capacity but also forcing East Boston residents to have to merge into traffic.
State officials allowed as how the initial traffic configuration in May caused backups and that they had to go into overdrive to work with traffic engineers and local residents to come up with the new plan.
But residents openly snorted and laughed when MassDOT project manager Andrew Paul said the current configuration means traffic is now flowing nearly as smoothly as it did a year ago. Two residents said they'd make him coffee - one said she'd throw in breakfast - if he'd agree to stand in front of their houses in the morning rush hour and see just how smooth the traffic really isn't. Others accused the state of fixating so much on the tunnel "portal" that officials were ignoring the tie ups in the surrounding streets.
"We are miserable with the traffic, and quality of life has to be a metric," resident Jesse Kahn said.
One by one, residents recited a litany of complaints they say the new alignment has caused, partly, they say, because local residents have a harder time getting to the tunnel, partly because North Shore commuters are now getting off 1A at Day Square because they, too are being jammed up and trying to get to the tunnel on local roads such as Bennington Street.
"No matter which street I take, I'm stuck," a Saratoga Street resident said.
Another resident, a teacher, said that in the last two months of the school year, she had to pay $100 a week extra because her child-care provider had to come an hour earlier so she could get to school on time.
A Webster Street resident said it has taken him 45 minutes just to get into the tunnel. "It feels like I can swim (to downtown) faster," he said.
Among the residents expressing angst was a man who knows more than most about the Sumner - John Vitagliano, who oversaw the operation of the Sumner and Callahan tunnels for five years and who served as transportation commissioner under Mayor White.
The "incredible increase" in traffic on local roads "is completely unacceptable," Vitagliano said.
Other residents wanted to know whether MassDOT could somehow detour North Shore commuters to the Ted Williams Tunnel or 93 or 16, or block 1A motorists from getting off at the exit towards Central Sqaure.
One resident, who lives near the tunnel entrance, had a non-congestion complaint: The new height-warning alarms the state installed to keep the drivers of trucks too tall for the tunnel from smashing into it now frequently go off for no reason - and none of the workers on site ever come out to check when the alarms go off - she said.
Another accused the state of contributing to blight in the area by not cleaning up their "craphole of a project," one he said is now full of weeds and trash - including a prominent diaper that has been there going on three weeks now.