BOSTON (CBS) – If you hate sitting in traffic, imagine trying to get a patient to a Boston hospital during rush hour. EMT’s took WBZ-TV for a ride in an emergency response vehicle through East Boston and the Sumner Tunnel during the morning rush hour recently. It’s a route they might take from many North Shore towns to the city’s major hospitals, and it’s routinely plagued with gridlock.
“Traffic is obviously a challenge to get that patient to where they’re going,” said Armstrong Ambulance EMT Sean Mangan.
“There are no breakdown lanes here,” said EMT Melissa Pierce.
On that particular day, 41,329 vehicles took the same trip through the tunnel.
“There’s no direction for anybody. It’s kind of a free-for-all,” said Pierce, referring to the confusing Sumner approach. Without lights and sirens, a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of the trip took 45 minutes.
“Everyone thinks it’s just a mess,” said Joe Sinatra, a bartender at Santarpio’s Pizza, situated near the tunnel’s entrance. “They’re going to have to come up with something, because it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse.”
The neighborhood veered into a dark world of gridlock when the toll booths came down a few years ago, leaving constant construction around a confusing knot of merging lanes. Add to that, an ever-growing number of vehicles. Transportation experts say it’s due to booming development in Boston, expansion at Logan Airport, and an increase in ride-share trips.
WBZ learned transportation authorities did not see all of that traffic coming. A MassDOT report shows officials predicted that, over five years, the daily number of trips through the tunnel would jump 2.5 percent. Instead it zoomed up more than 46 percent.
“People can’t move,” said Boston’s former transportation commissioner John Vitagliano, who also used to be the city’s tunnel supervisor. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s been designated an official public safety hazard.”
He says he predicted it would happen, and urged lawmakers to do something about it decades ago.
“Much of what we’re seeing today could have been avoided if the state had the foresight to invest in public transportation over the decades.”
He showed WBZ a 1990 memo in which state officials signed on to connect the MBTA’s Blue and Red lines as part of the Big Dig, hoping to divert traffic from the tunnel to the trains. After a feasibility study decades later, the state reneged.
State Representative Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, says it’s not too late to go back to that plan.
“This is something I’ve been championing,” he said.
Madaro has proposed several bills aimed at helping ease traffic in his neighborhood.
“Certainly things like the Red-Blue would help,” he said. “Things like an extension of the Blue Line to Lynn would help. Dedicated bus lanes on the highway would help.”
He also wants to add fees to Uber and Lyft rides, and discount tolls at off-peak hours.
Ambulance crews would welcome any relief.
“There are a lot of cars on the road,” said EMT Pierce.
“There’s always another patient waiting to go out,” added Mangan.
Because of the traffic in East Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh added an extra Boston EMS ambulance to the fleet last year, dedicated to that neighborhood.