BOSTON – Transportation officials braced for potential traffic tie-ups, yet hoped for a smooth transition when the Callahan Tunnel shuts down Friday for a schedule 2 ½ month renovation project.
The two-lane Boston Harbor tunnel first opened in 1962 and at one time represented the only direct access from the city to the East Boston neighborhood and Logan International Airport, New England’s largest airport that now handles nearly 30 million passengers a year. But the newer and more modern Ted Williams Tunnel, which opened in 1995 as part of Boston’s massive Big Dig highway project, alleviated some of the daily traffic stress to the airport.
Still, an average of 30,000 vehicles flow through the Callahan Tunnel each day and the lengthy closure — scheduled to begin at 11 p.m. on Friday and last through March 12 — will undoubtedly push many motorists into the Ted Williams Tunnel or to other alternative routes such as the Tobin Bridge.
Officials are hoping travelers will avail themselves of other options, such as public buses and subways, commuter boats and Logan Express buses from several suburban locations.
In announcing the planned closure earlier this year, state engineers said every aspect of the 52-year-old structure was in fair or poor condition. Last December, a corroded wall panel crashed down during the evening rush hour and while no one was injured, all of the tunnel’s 2,800 wall panels were removed the following month.
The tunnel was in “desperate need of a significant overhaul,” Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said.
Engineers weighed various options, including lane restrictions, that might have kept the tunnel open throughout the nearly $35 million rehabilitation project, but opted instead for the full closure during the winter months.
“There are several advantages for performing the overhaul of the Callahan Tunnel now,” said Frank DePaola, the state’s highway administrator. “The Tobin Bridge painting project is shut down for the winter and that means all lanes are open and we generally see lower traffic volume through the (Callahan) during these months.”
The project will include the replacement of the deck, curbing and wall panels of the tunnel.
The contractor for the project, McCourt Construction, has a $19.3 million contract with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation but faces daily fines of $71,000 for each day the work extends past the March 12 reopening target. Conversely, the constructor could earn a bonus of up to $2 million if the project is completed earlier than scheduled.
The reopening will not signal the end of the project, however. Overnight closures are anticipated for several more months until all repairs are finished, MassDOT said.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority planned to offer some additional service on the T’s Blue and Silver lines during the closure.
The Sumner Tunnel, which runs parallel to the Callahan and carries traffic back from the airport and East Boston, will remain open during the project.