June 27, 2023 • In the News

The most disruptive construction project Boston has seen in at least half a decade has begun.

The Sumner Tunnel is closed 24/7 from July 5 through the end of August, in the first of two big shutdowns for much-needed restoration work on the 88-year-old harbor tunnel. (There is another two-month closure scheduled for summer 2024.)

And while the tunnel primarily brings traffic from East Boston and Logan International Airport to the city's downtown and other points west, state transportation experts expect the closure to have a regional impact.

"It cannot be understated," said Massachusetts Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver, adding the tunnel closure and spillover traffic will make it "very, very difficult" for those living in or regularly traveling through the area.

Officials expect drivers to detour roughly evenly between the Tobin Bridge and the Ted Williams Tunnel, which are the only two other options for driving into Boston from East Boston, the North Shore and Logan airport. And as Gulliver notes, those two routes already see high levels of traffic congestion under normal conditions. He says traffic during the Sumner closure could lengthen some commutes by up to an hour.

So, officials are urging drivers to not drive.

During the closure, the state will offer expanded access to train, bus and ferry transportation. Officials say public transit will be the smoothest commute for travelers during the Sumner shutdown. And, Gulliver says, the hope is that by luring people out of their cars, traffic on the alternative roadways will be less paralyzing.

"Ditch the drive so that you don't even have to be in the congestion," he said. "And the more people do that, the better it's going to be."

Here's a look at your options:

One if by land

The Blue Line

Perhaps the most "viable" alternative, according to Gulliver, is the Blue Line, which will be free to ride for the full duration of the Sumner closure.

It doesn't matter what direction you're riding, or even if you're crossing the harbor. Fare gates will be open at all Blue Line stations — including ones like Government Center and State that serve other MBTA lines as well, T officials confirmed. (Not bad if you're trying to get in a free trip on the Red, Orange or Green Line, too.)

"Trains are only full about roughly 40%," Gulliver said. "So they have a lot of room to grow and can take on a lot more passengers."

While the MBTA has been crippled by severe service woes for nearly a year, the agency's new leadership has focused on eliminating speed restrictions on the Blue Line ahead of the Sumner closure. The agency says the full-length ride from Wonderland station in Revere to Bowdoin takes less than 30 minutes. The T is also increasing Blue Line service so trains run every six minutes during rush hours.

Trips on The RIDE (the T's call-ahead bus service for disabled riders) that begin and end within 3/4 mile of the Blue Line will also be free during the closure.

Getting there

The commuter rail

If you're traveling from further out on the North Shore, the commuter rail's Newburyport/Rockport Line is also an option — and the MBTA is lowering the price.

From July 1 through August, trips from any station on the Newburyport/Rockport Line will cost just $2.40 — the same as a subway ride or Zone 1A commuter rail fare. (Note, however, that Lynn's commuter rail remains closed for construction.)

"We hope the public takes advantage of this excellent mitigation and considers Commuter Rail not only as a travel alternative this summer, but as the best means of travel even after the tunnel reopens," MBTA General Manager Phil Eng said in a statement. (Newburyport/Rockport Line riders who already purchased a monthly commuter rail pass can contact the T's customer service team for a reimbursement.)

The MBTA estimates the trip from Salem or Swampscott to Boston will take about 40 minutes, and trains will run every 30 minutes during morning and evening rush hour. You can check out the schedule and additional details here.

Getting there:

Bus

Bus riders north of Boston will also get a discount. During the tunnel closure, the T is making five bus routes that run through East Boston, Chelsea and Revere free. Here's the list of temporarily fare-free routes:

With the exception of the 111 route (which goes downtown via the Tobin), all of the routes link up to the Blue Line. T officials also say fares won't be collected at ungated stops on the Silver Line's SL3 route to Chelsea. So that's also an option for Chelsea residents headed to Logan airport or to downtown Boston.

Two if by sea

East Boston ferry

Local residents may already be familiar with one nearby alternative to the Sumner Tunnel: the seasonal ferry from East Boston's Lewis Mall and Long Wharf downtown. The ferry runs 10-minute trips across Boston Harbor every 30 minutes during the day. And during the tunnel shutdown, officials are making it free.

However, it may not be the best option for commuters from farther outside Boston, since there's no nearby parking available. That said, there are two other water-based options for the greater North Shore community.

Winthrop ferry

The MBTA is taking over Winthrop's municipal ferry service to Central Wharf in Boston during the shutdown and lowering fares to $2.40 a trip. Tickets can be purchased via cash, credit, or, starting in July, the MBTA's mTicket app.

The ferry also makes stops at Quincy's Marina Bay, Logan airport and the Seaport's Fan Pier. (From Winthrop, it takes between 20 and 40 minutes to the Boston stops.) You can see the full schedule and other details here.

Lynn ferry

Beginning Monday, June 26, the MBTA will also run a weekday-only ferry between Lynn and Boston's Long Wharf, with five trips a day in each direction. The ferry is slated to run beyond the Sumner closure into the fall. But during the two-month closure, trips will cost just $2.40 (compared to $7 beginning in September). Tickets can be purchased via cash, credit, or, starting in July, the mTicket app. Officials say trips will take 30 minutes between Lynn and Boston, with no other stops in between.

There's also free parking at Lynn's Blossom Street Pier, where the ferry departs. Check out the schedule here.

Bonus perk:

  • As an added incentive to leave the car at home, Logan airport is offering a voucher to all travelers arriving by MBTA ferries and water taxis that lets them skip to the front of the TSA security screening line.

$3 if you're going to the airport

Officials are putting an emphasis on not driving to Logan airport. That's where Gulliver expects the most traffic to be concentrated, especially during busy times like Thursday afternoons.

In addition to the Blue Line and ferry options, the Logan Express bus is offering $9 tickets each way from BraintreeFraminghamPeabody and Woburn— and its bus from Back Bay is $3 roundtrip.

Silver Line buses will also be able to use a special Seaport ramp to the Ted Williams Tunnel to cut down travel times. (The SL3 route also remains an alternative to driving for commuters from Chelsea to Boston.)

If you really have to drive

Gulliver acknowledges there will still be many people who have to drive, due to the nature of their trip or work.

To provide drivers — particularly East Boston residents — some relief during the shutdown, the state will provide Tobin Bridge and Ted Williams Tunnel toll discounts to those with EZ Pass accounts registered in the Resident Discount Program. Gulliver also recommends using the "revamped" Mass 511 website (or apps likes Google Maps) for real-time traffic monitoring.

"It's going to be a very difficult project," he said. "And we need everybody's help in making sure that they avoid the heaviest congestion."