Police & Fire Transportation

Study Says HazMat Trucks are Too Dangerous for North End / Waterfront (and the City of Boston)

The long awaited public safety study on routing hazardous material/cargo (hazmat) trucks has finally reached Boston’s City Hall.

According to city officials, the analysis supports banning the hazmat trucks from cutting through ANY of the North End / Waterfront streets. Further, the study recommends routing the trucks completely outside the City of Boston to the I-95/Rt. 128 corridor.

City officials appear pleased with the result of the independent study and expect a positive reaction from neighborhood residents that have long-protested the hazmat trucks in the North End / Waterfront area. Officials have indicated they will schedule a community meeting in the North End as soon as practical to present the analysis.

Although details of the study have not been released, the analysis would implore State and Federal authorities to stop hazmat trucks from traveling through the city unless they have business in Boston (i.e, gas station deliveries). This restriction would apply to the vast majority of hazmat trucks currently in the city which total hundreds each day.

For the North End / Waterfront neighborhood, this could eliminate nearly all of the hazmat trucks from the currently designated routes including Atlantic Ave., Cross St., Commercial St. and N. Washington St. from the Greenway to the Charlestown Bridge. Most of the hazmat trucks in the city travel back and forth between the Everett fuel tanks and destinations south and west of Boston. Because hazmat vehicles cannot travel in the Big Dig tunnels, the trucks exit onto surface streets inside the city. Most of these trucks have no business (i.e., deliveries/pickups) in Boston, but use the route because it is shorter and more cost effective than traveling on the designated highways around the city.

HazMat Truck on Commercial Street

The study was contracted by the City of Boston in the Spring of 2010, after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made a preemption decision and forced the city to stop its de-facto daytime ban and also changed the routes within the North End / Waterfront neighborhood. The FMCSA’s decision was based on petitioning by trucking companies that said the city failed to do a proper analysis of hazmat truck routes following the Big Dig. Prior to the opening of the Big Dig tunnels, the hazmat trucks previously traveled on the I-93 Central Artery. Subsequently, the trucks were not allowed to travel inside the tunnels putting them on the surface streets.

The May 2010 elimination of the de-facto ban and the change in routing caused an uproar in the North End / Waterfront neighborhood. Residents created a North End / Waterfront HazMat Truck Task Force with representatives from multiple neighborhood groups. Thousands of letters and petition signatures were collected along with major press coverage (Herald, Globe column). The culmination of the public response was in “standing room only” ballroom meeting at the Fairmont Battery Wharf where City and State officials came under significant pressure to resolve the situation.

The safety study was contracted with an Ohio-based company, Battelle Inc., and the initial deadline was targeted for the late summer of 2010. Numerous delays postponed the study through the winter. City officials say that was necessary in order to accumulate and analyze all the potential routes in sufficient detail. The HazMat Task Force contributed numerous data submittals and criteria, along with an information request centered around emergency procedures. One of the founders of the Task Force was North End / Waterfront resident Mario Alfano, featured in this Herald article, who worked diligently to see an end to the hazmat trucks in the neighborhood, but passed away last month.

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