The decision came down this week from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that hazardous material (hazmat) trucks can return to Commercial Street in the North End/Waterfront neighborhood. This ruling reverses the City of Boston’s 2006 daytime ban of hazmat trucks that were not delivering in Boston from cutting through the city rather than going around using interstate highways. In addition, it also reverses the route changes the city put in place which diverted hazmat trucks to Cross Street rather than using Commercial Street as a shortcut to and from the Charlestown Bridge.
Next week, the route change will bring about 200 hazmat trucks per day back to Commercial Street day and night. Instead of connecting straight on Atlantic Avenue to/from Cross Street, the shift has these 18-wheeler trucks turning on Atlantic Avenue near Christopher Columbus Park connecting to Commercial Street to/from the Charlestown Bridge on the corner of N. Washington & Commercial Streets.
The City’s efforts were in response to public safety and noise concerns for the residential, park and Harborwalk areas along Commercial Street. The route is also popular with tourists as the primary routes for trolleys and tour buses. While Cross Street is mostly commercial, some residents wanted a further diversion of the trucks to Congress Street, completely outside the North End. Federal officials previously rejected that idea because of “sensitive” intelligence-related offices on that route.
Today’s Boston Globe article says, “The decision has outraged city officials, who contend it will jeopardize public safety by putting hazardous and flammable materials such as gasoline, munitions, and propane in closer proximity to residents and drivers inching along congested streets during rush hour.” District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattina is quoted as being “disappointed” by the ruling. State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz is also strongly opposed to having hazmat trucks coming through the North End. It was former House Speaker Sal DiMasi who lives on Commercial Street that pushed the city to engage the ban in 2006.
A Commercial Street resident told NorthEndWaterfront.com, “We are being bombarded from all sides. We have dangerous LNG tankers coming through the harbor and now we have hazardous material trucks speeding down our streets. It is a huge public safety issue for the neighborhood’s residents and businesses.”
A tourist trolley driver noted they are not looking forward to sharing the city streets with these large hazmat trucks. “It’s never good to be driving next to these oil tanker trucks. They are loud, spew exhaust and their drivers ignore speed limits. It takes away from the experience of our visitors. How can that be good for the city?.”
The Federal agency said the decision is due to the city’s failure to justify its ban within a certain timeline. City officials say the timeline is unreasonable and they are consulting with experts to comply with the agency’s request. The ruling is a win for the trucking companies that appealed to the Federal agency against the City’s ban and route changes.