The journey into Boston is getting a little, or maybe a lot, longer.
As the last July 4th revelers filtered out of downtown Tuesday night, MassDOT crews closed the Sumner Tunnel when the clock struck 12:01 a.m., clamping off a key artery from East Boston for nearly two months.
The closure will allow maintenance workers to catch up on decades of wear and tear, modernize its safety systems, and help extend the aging traffic tunnel’s life, officials say. But it will leave East Boston and parts of the North Shore without an easy drive into downtown — and the Ted Williams Tunnel is expected to be packed. It will also throttle traffic coming from Logan Airport during its busiest season, according to Massport officials.
Where is the Sumner Tunnel?
The Sumner Tunnel, built in the 1930s, runs from East Boston into downtown, carrying southbound traffic on Route 1A under the harbor. It runs opposite the East Boston-bound Callahan Tunnel, which was built in 1961 and will remain open through the summer.
Typically, around 39,000 vehicles go through the Sumner each day, according to MassDOT. But after nearly 90 years of use, the traffic tunnel — among the country’s oldest — is in need of maintenance, including repairing the concrete arch and installing new safety and fire suppression systems.
When will the Sumner Tunnel be closed?
Crews closed the tunnel Wednesday morning, as Fourth of July Celebrations waned.
The tunnel is scheduled to reopen again by midnight Aug. 31, according to a MassDOT spokesperson. After that, the tunnel will still be closed weekends — Fridays at 11 p.m. to Mondays at 5 a.m. — into November, according to the Highway Division.
MassDOT is working with Framingham-based contractor J.F. White, and highway administrator Jonathan Gulliver said he was “very confident” in the company’s ability to stick to the timeline. He added that MassDOT will fine J.F. White $250,000 per day if the full closure lags beyond August.
When the Callahan Tunnel closed for more than two months in 2014, the project was completed — and the road reopened — two days ahead of schedule, the Globe reported at the time.
The Callahan closure lasted 76 days, and was focused on rebuilding the curbing and drainage sections and replacing the tunnel’s concrete decking, according to a MassDOT spokesperson.
The Sumner Tunnel has been closed for dozens of weekends since construction began in June 2022, meaning that by the end of the upcoming 57-day full closure, it will have been closed more than 100 days, with additional closures still to come.
Work will continue for at least nine weekends in the fall, according to MassDOT, plus another two-month closure next summer — although specific dates for that closure have not been announced.
Will there be more traffic while the Sumner Tunnel is closed? Where?
The closure is likely to create congestion in the Ted Williams Tunnel, which carries the Massachusetts Turnpike under the harbor, and on the Tobin Bridge, connecting Charlestown and Chelsea, according to highway officials.
Speaking to reporters at Wonderland Station last week, Highway Administrator Gulliver said he expected traffic to be densest along Route 1A and at 13 intersections MassDOT has flagged for monitoring.
He added that the first two weeks of the closure — especially the return of normal traffic July 10 — “are the most critical,” as monitoring crews “identify any issues in real time, so we can make adjustments.”
Live traffic information and alternate route planning tools are available at Mass511.
Are there alternatives to driving?
Officials are urging commuters to “ditch the drive” and take public transit during the tunnel closure, and the MBTA is offering free and reduced-cost service on several of its lines to ease downtown access from parts north.
The Blue Line will be free to ride — with $2 daily parking at Beachmont, Suffolk Downs, Orient Heights, Wonderland stations — and so will bus routes 111, 112, 114, 116, 117, which serve Chelsea, and the inbound Silver Line 3, according to the MBTA.
Fares on the Newburyport/Rockport line of the Commuter Rail will be reduced to $2.40, with free and reduced-cost parking available at several stops, according to MassDOT.
How can I get to and from Logan Airport?
Speaking at Wonderland Station last week, Massport CEO Lisa Wieland said travelers should avoid driving to or from Logan International Airport when possible. Instead, she said, travelers should expect to use public transportation or private shuttle services.
In addition to free Blue Line service, the MBTA will add an extra bus to the Silver Line 1 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., which remains free to commuters leaving the airport, according to MassDOT.
Meanwhile, the tickets for the Logan Express shuttle — running between the airport and stops in Back Bay, Braintree, Framingham, Peabody, and Woburn — will be reduced 25 percent when purchased online, and tickets for children under 17 will be free when traveling with their families. Still, Wieland warned that drivers should expect to be picked up from the shuttle, as parking will be limited.
The Winthrop Ferry — with stops in Winthrop, Quincy, downtown Boston, and at the airport — will offer $2.40 fares, and travelers who arrive at the airport by water will be allowed to skip to the front of the security line, she said.
For flyers getting in after midnight, the Silver Line and Logan Express shuttle both offer departures until after 1 a.m., according to Jennifer Mehigan, a Massport spokesperson. The last inbound Blue Line train typically stops at Airport station shortly after 12:30 a.m., she added.
No matter the route, travelers should plan to add an extra two hours to their airport commute, Wieland said.
How much will the closure cost?
The project is anticipated to cost $160 million — including $24 million in “contingency” costs such as police details and contractor incentives — according to MassDOT, although that figure does not count mitigation efforts, which include free public transit.
The MBTA is projected to lose approximately $6.1 million in revenue this summer, according to a MassDOT spokesperson, although that figure may change throughout the closure.