In a letter jointly signed by Massachusetts Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Frank A. Tramontozzi and Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin, companies with trucks that carry hazardous materials into the City of Boston were notified of changes to Downtown Boston transport procedures effective Monday, May 17, 2010. These vehicles will once again be directed to travel on Commercial Street rather than Cross Street in the North End of Boston. Commercial Street was the route in place prior to 2006. HazMat vehicles will be restricted from traveling through the City during the prohibited 7-9 am and 4-6 pm peak rush hour times on weekdays.
The modifications are being made to comply with a preemption decision made by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to revert back to procedures in place prior to July of 2006 when the City of Boston, in cooperation with the former Massachusetts Highway Department, made changes to Boston’s Haz Mat policy. In July of 2006, a portion of the Hazardous Cargo route in Downtown Boston was altered. Trucks carrying hazardous materials were asked to travel on Cross Street rather than Commercial Street in the North End. That decision was made to improve public safety, taking into consideration that Cross Street is a shorter, less populated street with more traffic signals in place to slow down the rate of speed than on Commercial Street.
In addition, further restrictions were placed on trucks simply “cutting through” rather than having a designated pick-up or delivery destination in the city. In 2006, these “cut through” vehicles were banned from traveling in Boston (Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays exempted) between the hours of 7 AM and 6 PM, whereas trucks with a Boston destination would only be restricted from traveling on the city’s route from 7 AM to 9 AM and 4 PM to 6 PM. “Cut through” vehicles were still allowed to travel the designated Downtown Boston route overnight.
Boston Transportation Department Commissioner Thomas J. Tinlin said, “Prior to these changes being made in 2006, a thorough process was undertaken. A three day hearing was held in City Hall. Each Haz Mat carrier with a “cut through” permit was extended the opportunity to present their case before a panel made up of Police, Fire and Transportation officials as to why they should not be subject to the proposed regulations.”
He added, “Federal regulations and policy clearly state that convenience and economic hardship cannot be taken into account when determining whether or not to use a bypass route which avoids going through or near heavily populated areas like Downtown Boston. Due to the fact that these were the only issues raised during the hearings, the new procedures were implemented in an effort to lessen safety concerns raised by trucks carrying hazardous cargo traveling through one of the mostly densely populated sections of the city during the busy daytime hours. The City of Boston and the residents of the North End are pleased with the procedures implemented in the summer of 2006. It is unfortunate that the federal government is stepping in, nearly four years after implementation, to order us to revert back to what is essentially the pre 9/11 way of doing business.”
The City of Boston was informed of the federal government’s decision in November of 2009, City and State officials were given six months to walk through an intricate federal process that is generally estimated to take eighteen months, and a promise of an extension was given. Since that time, the City and its consultants have advanced through the process, gathering data and performing risk assessments and route analysis. The federal process also entails holding a series of public hearings that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will schedule. Much to the surprise of the City and State, a request for an extension that was proposed to the federal government on March 29, 2010 was denied, on May 10, 2010 with an effective date of May 17, 2010.
Frank A. Tramontozzi, Chief Engineer for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation commented, “MassDOT has worked collaboratively with the City of Boston to ensure that public safety remains our top priority. We will continue to push for a route that best protects residents and visitors from hazardous cargo.”
The City of Boston is attributing the complications surrounding Boston’s Hazardous Materials procedures to the Big Dig. Historically, the Hazardous Cargo route through Downtown Boston was via the old, elevated Central Artery, except for the section running through the former Dewey Square Tunnel. During the course of Big Dig construction, City of Boston engineers agreed to what was supposed to be a temporary move of the route to portions of the surface roads, including Commercial Street. It was understood by all involved that this move was never intended to be permanent as Commercial Street is a thriving residential street and home to a neighborhood park, ball field, swimming pool and skating rink, as well as a United States Coast Guard Base. Prior to implementing the Haz Mat changes in 2006, the City of Boston was told that it was “grandfathered in” and was simply putting the route back to it’s pre Big Dig alignment and therefore would not be bound by the full federal process.
Hazardous Cargo (HC) trailblazer route signs will be in position at 12:01 AM on Monday, May 17, 2010, indicating the route change from Cross Street to Commercial Street through Downtown Boston. At that time, the time restrictions in place prior to July of 2006 will be in effect strictly prohibiting vehicles carrying hazardous materials from traveling in the downtown area, including along the designated route, on restricted days between the hours of 7 AM to 9 AM and 6 PM to 8 PM. (Except Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays.)
The Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police will be working to enforce these procedures beginning Monday, May 17, 2010.