Big Boston Traffic Change Coming

These days, the South Boston Waterfront/Seaport Innovation District is full of development and construction, thousands of new jobs -- and, at rush hour, traffic gridlock.

"It's something I want to avoid," David Urban of Malden said Tuesday afternoon. "It's a mess. It's just bumper to bumper."

Diana Tortellini, who lives nearby in South Boston, said: "Since the development of the seaport, it's certainly gotten a lot worse."

But come Monday, state and city officials will make two of the biggest changes in years to ease the traffic coming in and out of the Innovation District. The most important is at the currently trucks-only South Boston bypass road. It'll be opened to all commuters from 6 to 10 am from Interstate 93 to Richards and Cypher Streets, just west of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to all vehicles all day from there to West Service Road. What this will give you is a way to get from 93 North to the Innovation district without having to fight your way through the streets of South Boston -- or having to go up to South Station and turn right on Summer or Congress Streets. Likewise, it will also make it far easier for people from Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End to get to the seaport area from the Massachusetts Avenue 93 interchange.

The second big change: What's now an HOV-only (high-occupancy vehicle) lane from the left lane of 93 north to Logan International Airport. That opens to all traffic all day starting Monday, keeping airport traffic off the clogged 93 frontage road. People who now have to get off at the South Bay exit and work through traffic signals to the ramp to Interstate 90 east will instead have an all-highway connection from 93 to 90 to the airport if they stay left on 93 at South Bay.

Massachusetts Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin said these are 6-month trials, which required state environmental approval because of potential air-pollution impacts. "We have this piece of infrastructure, this roadway, that is really underutilized," Tinlin said.

The big picture: Boston's huge jobs and growth engine, the Innovation District, is at risk of choking on its own growth without huge road and transit upgrades.

Rick Dimino, CEO of A Better City, a business-backed transportation and urban livability advocacy group that played a key role in developing the planned changes, said he's optimistic the roadway changes can help. "The challenge for us is managing people's expectations, because it's a long road ahead of us relative to the kinds of transportation improvements that we need to make in that area," Dimino said. "If we want our economy to continue to grow, we need to really think about transportation investments going forward."

Tinlin said state officials will be closely monitoring the impacts of the change, especially some truckers' concerns that the bypass road that has assured them smooth access to the waterfront industrial area could begin to get clogged with traffic. But, Tinlin added: "Nothing gained if nothing tried, right?"  

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