Marblehead commuters are advised to prepare for major disruptions as the Sumner Tunnel, a vital transit link for North Shore residents working in Boston, is scheduled to close for two months, beginning Wednesday, July 5.
Opened in 1934, the 1.5-mile passage plays a key role in reducing traffic congestion between East Boston and downtown Boston. This 90-year-old tunnel, only second to the Holland Tunnel in New York in terms of age, will be out of service from July 5 to Aug. 31. The reason: a comprehensive maintenance project that includes replacing the ceiling, installing a new ventilation system and repairing the overhead arch among other things. An equivalent closure is also planned for the following year.
“It’s not going to be fun for anyone driving into Boston from the North Shore this summer,” said Marblehead Select Board Chair Erin Noonan. “The state is pushing all these mitigation strategies because they are doing whatever they can to get people not to drive in.”
Noonan’s husband, Patrick, works in the Back Bay three days per week. He usually drives to the Wonderland MBTA station and hops on the Blue Line.
“I try walking a bike on [the Blue Line] and then just bike across the downtown,” he said. “It’s like a 10-minute bike [ride to work].”
Massachusetts Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver emphasizes the state’s preference for residents to opt for public transport during the shutdown, whenever feasible. He cautioned, “Traffic impacts are inevitable, regardless of your point of origin. But those traveling from the North Shore and East Boston are bound to face the most severe effects.”
As part of the state’s efforts to ease roadway congestion, the MBTA plans to suspend fares on the entire Blue Line in both directions for the closure’s duration. All fare gates between Bowdoin and Wonderland will be open, an extra train will operate during the midday period to accommodate additional riders and parking facilities along the line will lower their fees to $2 per day.
The closure coincides with ongoing issues faced by the MBTA service, including staffing shortages and track defects that are causing train delays. This spring, officials concentrated repair efforts on the Blue Line’s slowest sections to enhance its performance ahead of the Sumner Tunnel closure.
Michael Goldman, a Marblehead resident and political consultant who regularly commutes to Boston, anticipates altering his travel routine and testing less congested routes during the construction.
“This tunnel was built seven to eight decades ago and is showing signs of significant wear and tear,” said Goldman. “The sheer volume of vehicles it handles and the limitations on maintenance have made it essential to shut it down.”
To further promote public transit use during the shutdown, the MBTA plans to lower fares on the Newburyport/Rockport Line of the commuter rail to $2.40 per ride, regardless of the destination. Additionally, parking costs will be reduced or waived entirely, and ferry services will be enhanced, including a free East Boston ferry and a new weekday ferry from Blossom Street in Lynn.
“You can’t build a temporary tunnel, so it’s a choice between closing it down completely or enduring several years of construction,” said Goldman. “It’s a difficult decision for the government because they need to balance the time taken for repairs and the inconvenience caused to the public. It will affect my commute and force me to consider alternate routes.”
He added, “It’s not an exciting prospect, but I understand the need for it.”
Reporting and writing from the State House News Service contributed to this story.
Travelers are encouraged to Ditch the Drive and use alternative means of travel. MassDOT has created a menu of safe, efficient commute options while the tunnel is closed for repairs. Travelers can utilize MassDOT 511 to help review traffic conditions and visit bit.ly/3PCSb3N to plan their public transit trips. Additional details on travel options are below:
MBTA BLUE LINE
Free trips on the MBTA Blue Line will be available for commuters.
Reduced rates of $2/day at MBTA parking lots and garages along the Blue Line. Additional free parking near Wood Island Station.
Free ferry service in East Boston to provide alternative transportation. For a reduced charge, people can use the ferry service from Lynn, Winthrop, Salem and the Boston Seaport to accommodate increased demand.
Reduced Zone 1A Commuter Rail fares along the Newburyport/Rockport line. Parking costs at Salem and Swampscott commuter rail lots will be $2 per day. Free parking is available at all MBTA lots north of Salem.
Registered participants in the Resident Discount Program will receive discounted toll rates on the Tobin Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel.
LOGAN AIRPORT TRAVEL
Discounted Logan Express service and additional MBTA Silver Line SL1 service for travelers to and from Logan Airport.