The Blue Line will be free to ride this summer while the Sumner Tunnel is closed, officials are set to announce Friday as part of a wide-ranging effort to ease commutes while the key East Boston-to-downtown connection is closed for repairs.
Fare gates along the entire Blue Line will be open for the duration of the closure, from July 5 to Aug. 31, a MassDOT spokesperson said, and the cost of parking at MBTA lots and garages on the Blue Line will be $2 per day.
The state Department of Transportation plans to shut the Sumner so crews can complete repairs, including restoring the ceiling and installing new lights, utility conduits, and cables. The tunnel has been closed most weekends since last spring.
“We are working hard to provide as many mitigation measures as possible to those impacted,” said Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca in a statement.
The tunnel, built in the 1930s, is a key entry point into downtown Boston from East Boston, Logan Airport, and the North Shore, carrying more than 39,000 vehicles a day, according to MassDOT. During the closure, drivers will be detoured to other entry points, including the Ted Williams Tunnel.
The apparently unprecedented elimination of fares on the Blue Line and other mitigation measures follow months of negotiations with advocates and lawmakers, who for a year have been pushing for the Blue Line to be free to ride while the tunnel is closed.
The moves have the potential to shift people out of their cars and onto public transit as driving to and from Boston becomes more difficult.
East Boston residents have faced a deluge of transportation problems over the past several years. Since March, much of the Blue Line subway tracks have been under speed restrictions due to newly discovered defects requiring evening shutdowns for repairs. The removal of the tolling plaza at the mouth of the Sumner Tunnel in 2017 coincided with a spike in headache-inducing traffic. And MassDOT closed the Callahan Tunnel, which carries outbound traffic to East Boston, starting in 2013 to do similar repairs.
As part of the soon-to-be announced mitigation measures, the East Boston ferry will also be free during the closure, the spokesperson, Audrey Coulter, said, and commuter rail riders at Salem and Swampscott stations will be charged a subway fare of $2.40 per ride with parking available at those stations for $2 per day and free parking at some lots north of Salem.
A new Lynn ferry will operate between the Blossom Street dock and Central Wharf in Boston for the price of a subway fare with free parking. Discounted tolls will be provided for the Tobin Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel for those registered in the Resident Discount Program, Coulter said.
As far back as last June, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and numerous other elected officials sent a letter to state transportation executives asking them to do more to reduce car traffic while the tunnel is closed by improving transit service and eliminating Blue Line fares.
The Blue Line, which connects Revere, East Boston, and downtown Boston, had long been considered the MBTA’s most reliable subway line. Wait times between trains had remained shorter than on other lines, around six minutes on weekdays, according to TransitMatters’ analysis of MBTA data, despite the agency’s cuts to subway service put in place last June.
But an increase in slow zones has plagued the line since March. Blue Line riders endured the elimination of most train service during weeknights during a two-week period in late April and early May as the MBTA said it was working to repair its tracks. Still more than 30 percent of its tracks currently have speed restrictions in place because of track defects, according to the T’s dashboard, slowing down service.
Lawmakers representing East Boston and surrounding municipalities had hoped all slow zones on the line would be eliminated by the time of the closure.
Earlier Thursday before the Blue Line news was made public, residents expressed frustration about the upcoming tunnel closure.
Maureen Azor, who lives in East Boston, said that when the tunnel is closed on the weekends, driving out of the neighborhood takes about 30 minutes because of road congestion.
“I wish there were other viable options outside of shutting the tunnel down,” she said Thursday at a dog park near the entrance to the Sumner Tunnel.
Azor said it’s a “shame” that the tunnel deteriorated to the point where a lengthy closure was needed.
“I feel like that’s how it goes in Boston and Massachusetts,” she said. “Things have to get to their worst before anything is resolved.”
Massport, which oversees Logan, took out ads in newspapers this week urging people to take public transportation to and from the airport and to give themselves two extra hours to get to the airport while the Sumner Tunnel is closed.
Coulter, the MassDOT spokesperson, said there will be a 25 percent discount for Logan Express tickets when riders buy tickets online, and children under 17 will be able to ride free.
MassDOT plans to close the Sumner for around two months again in the summer of 2024.
Laura Crimaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.